Thursday 9 February 2012

Aunt Minerva, Number 84, 1987

Charlie Chaplin came here to browse, to read, to buy. That tickled Alf. Marks & Co had closed, he did not know why. He had worked with them, or for them, found a few works put away by his Pops back in the war. Marks & Co had been part of the book ring. An arrangement whereby certain sellers and collectors agreed what to bid on (or not). In advance, lowering the prices from outsiders. There had been a quiet little scandal. But that had been Marks & Co whereas this was 84 Charing Cross Road. This shop and that were both Marks & Co, they both had the same address on their letterheads. Had. But this was the gentler book shop. This was the quietly bumbling, distant gazing, softly hands-touching-across-the-sea of a post-war Britain with a faint sigh, with parcelled eggs and where a cake was not a treat, but something daring.
Alf knew all this because he had been to the film not the night before with a bit of soppy tail, and here it was. Right down to the Polite Bookseller, with his brown paper and string face. Alf said, “They’re harmless.”
“But they are dago-types?”
“Oh yes,” but harmless, like he said. In the film last night all this, just exactly like this, a not-love non-affair across the years and ocean, by letter, the only shock a cultural one. Like a horrid, doomed extra-marital. Just without the thin-benefit of the fucking.
Alf Bittersweet knew he dressed snappily, and two decades before everyone else would have known it too. Everyone else had done. Alf Bittersweet had enjoyed twenty birthdays with twenty-nine candles on the cake. Simon Dee had robbed his look, the bitch. Here and he was twenty years too early. This was austerity Britain four years after wartime rationing, so now it was just rationing. He had not been paying attention. The prize-bullish man that had come to meet him had taken to sizing up Polite Bookseller. “Harmless,” said Alf again.
“Thought in Aunt Minerva we were meant to put down dago-types?”
“You new?”
The man flicked a look at Alf. Alf winked. Alf knew the type. Good family, Guards officer, Welsh by the tie if not by the accent. Missed the Falklands, never missed an episode of The Professionals, newly introduced to Aunt Minerva. Still thought there actually was an Aunt Minerva. “I’ve been told what we do. I was in Northern Island, Armagh, my platoon was...”
            Alf scarce listened. Some dago-type had stepped out of some film, only not like here, not all sepia whimsy and frayed ribbon. Something bad.
            “It wouldn’t die, I almost did. So don’t tell me...”
            This time some bluster. Some sort of threat. Don’t play with the hard man. Aunt Minerva loved this sort. Rough and bold. Angry. Never missed an episode of The Professionals, again. “They only go away, they only die,” said Alf interrupting, “if it’s like in the film, or so bloody impossible to do otherwise that even Saturday serials couldn’t change it. Take him, take Frank Doel. Looks like Captain Bligh, dies from peritonitis, I looked it up. I can’t remember if it says that in the film, and it’s the film that counts. It’s lucky that the Polite Bookseller couldn’t hurt so much as a feeling ‘cause I’m buggered how we’d work that one.”
            “Hardly, you’re not here for that. Not for him. Maybe he’ll endure. Maybe he’ll have a sequel, of sorts. Live on after this place fades. Wake up with his wife with a little bit of mirror. Have his twenty years. Manage an Our Price, or Athena. I don’t care. He’s not your concern. He’s not the threat. Your man,” said Alf, “is one Captain Peter Skellen.”
            The name was familiar to the well-spoken ruffian, just not quite enough. He said, “How will I recognise him?”
            “Trust me sweetheart, you’ll know him when you see him.” He looked and spoke like, and was, the one that wasn’t Doyle. Alf did not know how bad he was, but if he was half as awful as the film then Aunt Minerva was in for a stormy one.


  1. I can see this making such a good film or TV series.

  2. Ta for the kinds words.

    It's a fun whatever-it-is. Tele is rather difficult nowadays. Chris Fowler's Bryant & May after three years of development hasn't been picked up, despite (as Kim Newman pointed out) Whitechapel pretty much ripping him off. And Bryant & May had Derek Jacobi and Michael Gambon signed up with it. How B&M can't get picked up with Chris' quality, contacts and those two actors onboard I'll never understand!

    Jim Eldridge, who has been in the biz for aeons, told me once that for a joke he pitched (for children's tele) 'two glove puppets living in a phonebox' and it was eagerly seized upon - he had to explain that he was only pulling their leg).

    For Minerva there's the time travel element that makes it intriguing to write, and for tele there is Dr Who for that. Where time travel is now running around and then waving a sonic Hogwarts wand to solve it.

    These pieces are very quick to write. Oddly mostly done when I've had a particularly heavy day between parentals and work. Writing to wind down from writing is pretty much Slide23 in that ever sought nutshell.

    Aunt Minerva would make a good... something, though.

  3. I liked the first Whitechapel. The second was a bit stretched and this last was so poor I did other stuff while it was on. A premise which did not have enough material to make a suit let alone matching overcoat and hat.
    You can't be put off by other peoples lack of success, though, as it is all in the run of the cards at that moment in time. Your time travel premise is far more intriguing and the more so because it has rules, which Who long since dispensed with.
    The biggest bind is writing scripts - having done quite a few, plain prose is like running without fences in comparison -although there are programmes to do it these days.
    A TV series would suit this.

  4. Who very clearly had rules (particulalry under R.T. Davies)
    1. Every episode the main characters must run somewhere (in the manner of Benny Hill/Scooby Doo but with with light club music)
    2. Cardiff is the centre of Everything
    3. Nothing really happens for the first 50 minutes, until the Doctor starts running around a room talking to himself saying things like 'of course' and hitting buttons at random (even in a room without any buttons)- sad that he exhibits this level of attention seeking (either just get on with it in silence or stop to explain to everyone else).
    They'll never write/show the episode I'd like to see - where he plays the spoons/ plays Tomb Raider in his underpants etc. and then solves the problem because there's only 10 minutes left.

    I'd like to see Aunt Minerva on the telly not least because of all the film references made flesh as it were. Sundays on the BBC at about 6ish.

  5. I do know about scripting, been taken all the way through the process, the people to talk to, how to, by Jim Eldridge. He's been scripting since the 60s, his first gig with Arthur Lowe (Parsley Sidings) and just hundreds of things thereafter. We have very much the same attitude - it's a craft, not an art, and a gig's a gig. I blush to quote him but he's said of me 'Alan has one of the most creative and productive imaginations I have come across in my writing career. This, coupled with an almost workaholic zest for his craft, combines to make him a formidable writing force' Nice man. Though some of my customers would scoff at the workaholic bit, with B full time now I'm the housewife with all the house and kids bits - and work. Big smilie ;0). Enough of that though - no work talk here, ever!

    I was approached to write a film script a couple of years back, and it was optioned. I know the layout, I've got a few pieces on 23 using it. If anything I like the possibilities/manner of radio best. More scope because you can be anywhere, with a cast of thousands, anywhen.

    Though that's all an aside. Minerva is fun, all the pieces are apart - there's no reason something like Nicely Pink has to be anything to do with anything else Minerva. It's the characters that are the constant, and often not even in Minerva. But I like Minerva because I enjoy making sure everything comes from somewhere. It's also easy. It really is.

    Nicely Pink did not take very long to do. Two or three thousand words a day when they're plotted and without the need to refer to others was done each day before breakfast. Interestingly for me was that by notes it could have been 70,000 words of novel - but the discipline of the countdown to Christmas forced it to the 20-25,000 words it was. A very good exercise at keeping it tight.

    There'll be more pieces, because they're fun. I might do something different with it later in the year. It's also something I don't mind sharing. If anyone sends me a piece and I like it, I'll put it up. The trouble with that is people might get upset if I then didn't? But if anyone wants a crack at a Minerva they should feel free. There's no canon as such. Stories don't have to even relate.

    I've written Roux in different places with wildly different views and aims, I just find her easy to write. She's got strengths, but she's basically unpleasant. She's not as clever as she thinks she is, but often cleverer than other's think. In that piece she was a dago-type (I was a bit mean with the whole 'of course you are, how esle do you time travel?' bit, but...), in another she won't be. In one she might be useless, in another the villain. Because in Nicely Pink to use the common example there were no real villains, not in the normal sense. Or they all were.

    No Mary Jane's here!

  6. As for Who, I do like it - though I missed most of the last series and don't feel the burning need to catch up unless I happen upon it. It's just that they're so short, forty minutes? Enough that with adverts elsewhere it'd be about an hour? It's a kid's programme we forget, we expect so much from it, because of our memories from when we were kids.

    The best episodes are the ones without the Dr in it much. The one where he's sending messages in videos, the character that ages, spread across time - very good. The one with the actor from Hustle in it, brilliant.

    The Dr is a trickster, or should be. He should be all bluff and cunning. Outwitting an enemy, not so much running around and using his magic wand. I'm not saying that's an easy write, but then that's why you have a team and lots of planning.

    But again, it's a kids show - nothing wrong with that. So why should we expect more?