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Shortlisted hopefuls in £5m BBC comedy contest get West End debut

The BBC is about to reveal what it hopes are the future faces of TV comedy, amid increasing criticism of its output.

The BBC is about to reveal what it hopes are the future faces of TV comedy, amid increasing criticism of its output.

Only The Royle Family and Dinnerladies have had much recent success where once there was a rich seam of comedy programmes such as Fawlty Towers and Dad's Army.

Next month four scriptwriters will try to put that right with debut shows in London's West End. They have fought off competition from 5,000 would-be writers in a £5m talent contest launched by the BBC earlier this year. The winner - they are all male - will see his script produced on radio.

Some of Britain's most successful comedy writers, including Ben Elton, David Renwick and John Sullivan, are helping them to fine-tune their scripts for a professional reading in front of a public audience sponsored by the Radio Times at the Soho Theatre, London, from 7 to 10 November.

Stuart Durbin, who was unemployed until signing off to work on his script Billy Piper Lives in Swindon, wrote about young people living on the dole, taking Only Fools and Horses as his comedic role model.

Grant Smith, 25, an English teacher from London, said he had found the workshops useful in developing his script WLTM - a title taken from lonely hearts ads. He was advised by Paul Mayhew-Archer, co-author of The Vicar of Dibley, that there should be a laugh every three lines.

Alex Chance, a 21-year-old piano player from Chesterfield, said his script, Cooler, was a carefully calculated outline for a long-running series.

Edward Granger, 21, from Norwich, is a computer systems expert. He is producing a script about an accountancy firm called Art of War. Like some of the others, he confessed to watching comparatively little television and speculated whether that had helped.

Geoffrey Perkins, the BBC's head of comedy, said: "These people have got the talent to go on to create some really successful shows. We'll do our best to sustain and nurture them."

Paul Mayhew-Archer guessed there had been only about 40 successful comedy writers in the past 40 years. "People think it's a closed shop and it's always the same people, he said. "The truth is we're desperate to find new talent."