BBC TV Drama Writers Festival. Part 1


In this post, there are notes from two sessions:

  • Is it the writer’s responsibility to change the world?
  • The bio-pic: the fall-back position?
  • and related links on the speakers


Chair: Paula Milne.
With Tony Marchant, Hugo Blick, Jack Thorne, Roy Williams, Gwyneth Hughes

(this conversation was quite fast, so here are mostly snippets of what was said)

Writers should aspire to make a difference. (Milne)

Writers without politics are like soldiers without a country – mercenaries.  (John Clarke)

Morality explored through personality.

The viewer might start liking the antihero which is something you don’t want in the case of a drama with a political message.

We live in non-ideological times. Political topics change fast and sometimes it feels like there’s nothing to write about.

Exhaustion of democracy turns into cynicism, which turns into apathy. (Marchant)

Politics explored through personal relationships. The Wind That Shakes the Barley – politics were explored through the relationship between the brothers.

If you don’t know the past you don’t know what you’re missing at the present. Writers should examine political past.

There should be an ongoing political debate, challenging dramas – through character.

Fantasy as politics (Robin Hood about McCarthyism)

The Thick of It – comedy – do we expect real politicians to be just as incompetent?

Politics is part of everyday life. Politics is not just about politicians and a political system, it is partly our responsibility (as citizens, as writers), it is part of everyday life.



Chair: Alice Nutter.
With Brian Fillis, Amanda Coe, Madonna Baptiste, Gwyneth Hughes.

(again, these are snippets and often not direct quotes)

AN: How do you find original drama in a biography? How do you approach a bio-pic to manage with the baggage of life?

AC: It depends on the subject.

Coe: find a 3-act structure – build-up, crisis – in the subject’s life.
Coe starts from a sympathetic position. What’s the most dynamic part of  a life – becoming something [experiencing a change]. Look for a crisis point in their life.

AN: finding a smaller universal story.

BF: finding the thing that makes them [the subject] tick. You’ve got events, characters – which also prevent you from writing a free-flowing story. For example, a drama about a man who is refusing to accept… (something universal).

MB: Find key moments, key relationships.

AN: Is it a fall-back thing? The audience already knows the person (easier to sell, attract viewers) or (when the person is not well-known) you have to show why they’re important, why you’re telling this story.

GH: It has to mean something (what goes on in the story)


Related links:

Paula Milne interview in The Independent

Paula Milne: Give the audience what they need in Broadcast (12 July, 2011)

BBC Writersroom interview with Tony Marchant

The Guardian interview with Tony Marchant

Hugo Blick on how I wrote The Shadow Line in The Guardian

BBC Writersroom interview with Jack Thorne

Jack Thorne on Twitter

Interview with Roy Williams from The Writers Guild

Gwyneth Hughes on Five Days in Metro

On this blog: BBC TV Drama Writers’ Festival, Part 2 (Controversy; Jimmy McGovern)

BBC TV Drama Writers’ Festival, Part 3 (John Yorke on theory and practice)

BBC TV Drama Writers’ Festival. Part 4 (Launching a series; Thrillers; Adaptation)



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