Question everyone’s asking on the blog-o-twitter-o-facebook-sphere; how far through Big Top did you manage to get?
Me, about two minutes. The cast were standing in a semi-circle shouting lines into the middle-distance. Not sure it had even been rehearsed. I’m sure I’ve said somewhere that the test of any sitcom is the first joke; if the first joke, the one specifically designed to grab you, doesn’t grab you, then nothing will. I spent about two minutes waiting for the first joke, then realised it had been and gone. Oh well, it’s a pity. I wish there were more sitcoms on television so each one that didn’t work didn’t feel like the boulder rolling back over Sisyphus. Particularly mainstream, family, studio audience shows. And it’s a shame that Bruce MacKinnon seems to have become a sitcom Jonah; he’s a great, funny actor, but only seems to get offered parts in projects doomed to failure.
Way back in 2007, which seems an awfully long time ago but, now I come to think of it, wasn’t, I was invited along to a BBC meeting about coming up with the next Allo Allo. The meeting was chaired by Jon Plowman, think it was his idea, and at the time I was developing a sitcom with the BBC which was a good idea for a show but where I wasn’t the right person to write it. Anyway, off I trotted to the BBC for the meeting. Trying to remember who else was there. NF. Susan Nickson. Paul Mayhew-Archer. Micheal Jacob. And various other comedy writers. I was particularly delighted to meet Andrew Marshall, one of my heroes – he did 2point4 Children, Whoops Apocalypse and the Alexei Sayle shows. Total comedy genius.
The gist of the meeting was basically that the BBC were looking for the next Allo Allo, and for writers to think big laughs, bright colours, recognisable situations, and larger-than-life characters and to get away from the whole embarrassment thing of The Office. Then there was a discussion, which lasted about an hour, with us writers being naturally cautious about sharing ideas because, well, no-one had signed any contracts and who wants to come up with a brilliant suggestion that ends up being written by someone else?
I had an idea, so after the meeting I wrote it up and sent it in. Jon Plowman wasn’t keen, and I can’t afford to write scripts that people aren’t going to pay me for, so that was that. I assumed that Andrew Marshall had sent something in so nobody else would stand a chance. My show was basically Hi-De-Hi but set in a zoo. Think Fierce Creatures – the series. Yes, it had hit written all the way through it. Or a word that sounds like hit.
So reading the 'mixed' reviews of Big Top, I can’t help feeling sorry for the poor writer, thinking ‘that could have been me’. But then, if they’d decided to commission my show it would’ve been marvellous and would've got glowing reviews, so there!