Christmas is certainly on its way. The TV ads are flooding onto our screens, the geese are getting fat and I’m doing a Christmas quiz for a small local charity called Brave Hearts. I’ve got to be honest I still love Christmas despite the commercialism of it all. I suspect the commercialism was always there, but in the 50s and 60s it just wasn’t on the scale it is now – but what was? Then there were no Jumbo Jets, Minis were mini and Cleopatra, the most expensive film made in the 60s had a budget of $5 million, though it was estimated it actually cost around $44 million. But even allowing for inflation, the 2011 movie Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, just pipped it to the post with a budget of $378 million. So things change, they get bigger, in the case of TV commercials they get longer and panto runs get shorter.
Over the years my Christmases have changed. When I left college, the main thing was to get a job. The profession of acting is one thing that’s never changed. Lots of actors and not that many jobs. I was quite lucky, I worked pretty consistently as an actor, the odd great part, but mainly just good solid work. Part of my pattern of working was doing panto every Christmas. The first I did was in Bradford and in was Babes in the Woods with the Q20 Theatre Company. I then moved on to Chesterfield Civic Theatre and did a number of Christmases there. Then for a few years I worked up and down the country at various different theatres. I enjoyed, a bit of singing and dancing, working with some old hands who could do a routine with a bottle of Smirnoff inside of them. Then for quite a number of years Christmas was taken up with writing episodes for various shows that would be screened the following year. I wrote lots of Christmas episodes for lots of shows, but none were written at Christmas. They were all written months prior to being aired on Christmas Day. The first year of EastEnders we didn’t go out on Christmas Day and it was probably that first Christmas that persuaded the powers-that-be it should go out on Christmas Day. The Boxing Day episode which I wrote reached over 26 million viewers. Not the same today.
I was often asked how could I write a Christmas episode when there wasn’t a sniff of Christmas in sight. Did George Lucas go to another planet to write Star Wars?
Like a lot of writers, I can write anywhere, anytime and anyhow.
There are of course other writers who need to have the same things around them. Same desk, same chair, same pen, some view … but luckily for me I don’t. I used to think I was strange. I’d read about Roald Dahl and his shed at the bottom of the garden and I was convinced that was the only way to write. Wrong. I’m a nomad. I like a change of scenery. I do have my office in which I do the majority of my work, I’m in there now, writing this blog, but it could have been everywhere. It’s just convenient knowing you have somewhere to go to write and you’re not getting up in the morning trying to find somewhere to go.
But back to Christmas, I don’t know how many Christmas episodes I’ve written over the years, but I do know my favourite. Originally I had the idea when I worked on EastEnders, but it was a bit too far left of field for them. Having written a blog entitled NEVER RECYCLE this might sound like I’m contradicting myself. I’m not. I never put the idea into action. It was just an idea and ideas are put out there to be discussed, to sound out the flaws and possibilities. I’d sounded it out once and nobody bought it.
Cut to some years later and I’m show running Holby City and the idea, which had never really left me, resurfaced. I thought it might just work in this different arena. In my opinion I think it worked even better than it would have done on EastEnders.
The idea was … doing an homage to Frank Capra’s 1946 masterpiece It’s A Wonderful Life.
Now if you haven’t seen this film, then your life isn’t complete. It’s the best Christmas film ever. Those of you that have seen it, know that and I’m not going to spoil anything about it for those who haven’t seen it. Suffice it to say it involved Paul Bradley as Doctor Elliot Hope and Richard Briers as an angel.
Unlike It’s A Wonderful Life I’ve never re-watched that Holby Christmas episode, but a Christmas doesn’t go by without me watching It’s A Wonderful Life. It just gets better and better. And that’s what every writer is aiming for – a piece of work that will stand the test of time.
This Christmas if you’re at all Scroogish about the celebrations and even if you’re not, watch It’s A Wonderful Life – it will make your Christmas complete.