Three wallies in a mini-drama

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JOE LOSEY once told me the most important person on any project was the producer. He had in mind a man more committed to the director's intentions (and to the writer's, too, perhaps) than to his office accoutrements and lunch arrangements.

Having given me this wise and cautionary advice, he must have been a little disappointed when I thanked him and promptly vanished from his life for ever; still more disappointed when the project on which we were working at the time later cropped up in a very different form (Oh Calcutta], as it happens) and with a very different chap, in a more stylish suit, in charge.

The best producer I ever met was Michael Codron, which is not, I admit, a particularly outlandish or idiosyncratic view. Codron's commitment to the work in hand was - no doubt still is - so rigorous that he'd cast, rehearse and fiddle endlessly until he was satisfied that nothing more could be done to realise the author's aims.

This habit of his drove me mad, of course. My own preference was to bung a piece on in any old shape, keen as I was to generate enough in the way of management fees to fund my own wardrobe and personal arrangements. On one occasion we co-produced Muriel Spark's Doctors of Philosophy and you'll imagine my surprise when Codron called a rehearsal three days before the play was due to close.

'What's your game?' I asked.

'We owe it to Miss Spark,' he said, 'to perfect the production before it comes off.'

I ask you. In television, happily, it isn't a necessary condition of success to have a producer of Codron's class on board, or a producer of any sort, indeed - which is why there's plenty of room for me and my local postman, with whom, you may remember, I have recently set up shop as a smart-talking independent.

Independents, as I've said before, aren't in any serious sense producers at all. They're sharp-suited lunchtime types, whose emotional and financial obligations extend no further than to the shareholders and management of the Groucho Club, and, less importantly, to the price of a book of first-class stamps, by which means they can forward to Marcus Plantin, ITV's scheduling supremo, proposals rendered by the general public.

It's a crazy system, not that I'd be so reckless as to say so here, still less to criticise Mr Plantin's taste or call anyone a jackass - at least until after 20 April, on which date a proposal for a new Root series is to be pitched to someone at Plantin's office. I'm not stupid. I'll not prejudice the outcome by describing here, before 20 April, the casual and amateurish way in which the proposal was put together, or the slipshod form in which it arrived on Mr Plantin's desk.

Here was the way of it. After Root into Europe's expected triumph, Central Television made it known they'd like to do a second series, set in England. The first I heard of this was when Justin Judd invited me, six months ago, to hop into the office at 2pm on a Thursday. If we avoided distractions, he said, there was no reason why he, Mark Chapman and I shouldn't have a treatment ready for Central by teatime the same day.

I lost my temper, I'm ashamed to say. 'Are you asking me to believe,' I said, 'that Central Television, serious broadcasters, and, as far as we know, with shareholders and some responsibility, if not to you and me, at least to George Cole, honestly think three wallies who have never written a drama series before can cobble together an acceptable treatment in two hours?'

'Yes,' said Judd. 'I'm afraid you've no idea how television works.'

'They wouldn't rather spring some petty cash, commission a couple of decent writers and have the job done properly?'

'No,' said Judd. 'They want half a page at most.'

'Why? Can't Plantin read?'

'That is not the point,' said Judd.

I stuck to my guns and, to Judd's annoyance, toiled away for a week or so, until I'd produced a treatment that was at least as good as I could do. This was sent to Central, which, in turn, reduced it to one short idiotic paragraph and posted it to Plantin - thus saving him the trouble of discovering, before his decision on 20 April, whether we have come up with any new ideas. Why they didn't simply ring him up and say, 'How about a new Root series, Marcus?', allowing him to say, 'No, thank you very much', I'll never know.

Be that as it may, the system works at least to the advantage of myself and the local postman, with whom I had a meeting only yesterday.

'Have a banana,' I said.

'Shouldn't we come up with some ideas?' he asked.

He'll learn. Independent producers don't have ideas - which brings me to your contribution. Since the postman and I see ourselves as documentary watchdogs, I'd like you to use this column as a caring hotline, submitting proposals - for forwarding to Plantin - in which you grass up your neighbours and members of the family. Codron can do things his way, I'll do them mine.

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