Why Bridget Jones didn't need to write a diary at all
Monday 31 August 1998
Oddly enough, both Davies's and Barry's columns were made into TV programmes, called respectively Father's Day and Dave's World. Oddly enough, neither hit the jackpot. Oddly enough, I can tell you why. It was because both columns depended almost entirely on tone of voice, on Hunter Davies's and Dave Barry's idiosyncratic view of the world, and an internal tone of voice is one thing you can't very well reproduce on television, where you have to show people doing the things without the description.
Bridget Jones's Diary runs all the same risks. Its success depends almost entirely on the clever tone of voice with which Helen Fielding describes fairly ordinary events - the sound of someone who is a woman but still a girl, perpetually teetering on the verge of growing up, someone who has huge hopes that always crash in flames and are immediately rebuilt, etc - and I fear that the plans to turn it into a film, TV series, etc, etc may be made by people who think that the things that happen in Bridget Jones's Diary are funny in themselves.
But not a lot of things are funny in themselves. It is only the perception of them that is funny. As with Flashman, and Adrian Mole, and The Diary of a Nobody and Three Men In A Boat and Conan Doyle's Brigadier Gerard stories and hundreds of other comic best-sellers, the events are not funny until they have been fed through the narrator's mind; until, in fact, we hear how he or she sees them, which is why you don't hear of any TV or film versions of such things, or at least any that work.
So if you are setting out, as Helen Fielding did, probably unwittingly, to write a best-seller column that encapsulates the mood and life and times of a certain age group, and get it turned into a film or TV programme, I would advise you strongly not to write it as a diary. Diaries are the hardest thing in the world to transform for screen purposes. I would advise you to bypass the diary format altogether and write this best-selling column as a ready-made film script.
You will be the first ever to do it.
Let us say, for example. that you are going to make a fortune by writing the episodic diary of a thirty-something male journalist who is trying to make his fortune by emulating Bridget Jones. Your very first column might start like this:-
Scene: a bedroom. Curtains fluttering in wind. Pan round to a motionless form in the bed. It is snoring slightly, to reveal that it is a man. Suddenly the phone rings. Close up the phone. Cut to the man, who slowly wakes up, glances at the clock, fumbles for the phone.
Man: (into phone) Whoever you are, why are you phoning me at 3am? Pause. Three o'clock in the afternoon? Jumping Jehosophat! I don't believe it ! Yes, you'll have it within the hour...
We see him put the phone down. Pan round to the bathroom door, where a girl is standing.
Girl: Who was that?
Man: Features Editor. They want a piece within the hour.
Girl: What piece?
Man: The one you and I are in right now. It's the first of a new series about a thirty-something male journalist doing a column about a male journalist doing a column.
Girl: Are you talking about you?
Girl: You look more fortysomething.
Man: Oh, thanks.
Girl: And by the way, who am I?
Man: You're my partner.
Girl: Good God. Partner in what?
Man: Well, conversations mostly. You see, if I'm a male journalist struggling with a column, I've got to have someone to talk to about it, especially in the screen version.
Girl: I see... Do I have to go to bed with you?
Man: No. I'm gay.
Girl: You're GAY?
Man: Or maybe I'm not. I haven't decided that yet...
Must stop there. I've just had a phone call. Offering to buy the film rights. Already! See you in Hollywood!
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