About a fortnight ago, I was invited to attend the regular script conference at which the writers of Life in Westminster, a daily political soap, plan new plot developments. It was a new one on me.
"Life in Westminster?" I said. "I don't think I've seen that. When does it go out?"
"Go out?" they said. "It goes out every day! In all the papers! On every channel!"
"Really?" I said, rather stupidly. "What was in today's episode?"
"Same as yesterday," chuckled someone. "'Will IDS jump or will he be pushed?'"
"You wrote that?" I said even more stupidly.
"Sure," they said. "We write it all. Weeks and weeks ahead. Today we have to decide in advance how the IDS thing works out. Some of us are all for a protracted leadership battle, but most of us think that a clear-cut takeover is all the viewers can handle."
"Takeover ?" I said. "By who?"
"Ken Clarke," said red-bearded man.
"No," said a strict-looking woman. "It's got to be the awful Michael Howard. Then we can rewrite him in office at our leisure."
"I still have a soft spot for the Spanish chap, what's his name, Portillo," said a younger woman. "If he doesn't come back now, we might as well write him out of the series."
"Oh, for God's sake, Dot," said the red beard, "we let you have your fun writing a episode featuring him as a TV single mum. I never thought the viewers would swallow that, but they did. We can't push him much further."
"If all the spotlight is on IDS, how are we going to remind viewers that Tony is still around?" said a man with a bow-tie.
"Give him a nervous breakdown," said red beard. "Overwork, stress, etc. Crack-up. Major crisis at heart of government. Power struggle. Prescott steps in, finds Gordon there first..."
"Mmmm," said the man who was clearly in charge, as he had the only armchair. "Too drastic. A reminder of his mortality would do. Doc?"
"You could give him a heart flutter," said the man addressed as Doc. "Report to hospital with chest pains. Slight heart flutter. Warning shot. Nothing serious."
"OK, we'll go for that. Now, how about the old Tony/Gordon rivalry? We've left that on the back burner for a long while."
"I've been thinking about that," said red beard," and it strikes me that we've made a slight mistake rooting it so much in the past. We always seem to go back to the old Granita restaurant meeting and the Faustian deal they struck then, or we look forward to the day when Tony might step down - what we don't do is develop the relationship now. Couldn't we have it enter a rough period for a little while?"
"How?" said the strict woman.
"Well, let's say they have a public spat over the Euro..."
"No," said the boss. "No Euro. Viewer research shows that we lose up to a million viewers each time the Euro comes back in the script."
"OK," said red beard, "then maybe we could have Tony snubbing Gordon by... by ... forbidding him a seat on the National Executive. Look, isn't Gordon's wife about to have a baby?"
"Yes," said the boss.
"Is it going to be a boy or girl?" said the younger woman.
"Boy, I think."
"Never mind about that," said red beard, "the point is that the Gordon character is going to be all tied up at home, which will be an ace moment for Tony to outmanoeuvre him."
"And the motive?" said the boss. "Tony has to have a motive for wanting to put Gordon in his place, you know."
"I've thought of that," said red beard happily. "Because Tony wants Peter back in."
"Peter?" said the boss.
"Peter Mandelson!" said red beard. "The old schemer! The power behind the throne. The rat in the arras. The greasy pole from Hartlepool. He's overdue for a comeback."
"I rather like that," said the boss. "Do a draft script and let's see how it looks. Any other ideas? Angela - what subplots have we got coming to the boil?"
"Gay bishops," she read from a list. There was a general groan. "A new thriller written by IDS..."
"What!?" said the boss. "I don't remember agreeing to let the dreadful IDS write anything..."
"We agreed on this in Episode 1,364, chief," said Angela. "You chuckled and said, 'OK, as long as we get the Widdecombe character to give it a stinking review...'"
"Did I?" said the boss. "Well, if I did, I did."
More of this some other timeReuse content