William Donaldson's Week: Justin Judd's clever question

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IT'S SNUBS, as it happens, to all those people (in fact, only my wife and Terence Blackler) who have complained that I've been banging on too much in recent weeks about the frightful Cornish


Thank goodness I did, since I've now been asked by BBC 2 (actually, I was asked six weeks ago, but until now the thing's been under wraps) to turn the whole saga into a late-night comic soap opera with the confidential working title El Independo.

Here was the way of it. A few months ago, you may remember, Geoff Atkinson and I spent some time secretly in the offices of Kudos Productions, apparently working on a script for them, but in reality writing a new Root series for Tiger Aspect Television.

When this was done, Atkinson and I returned the compliment, as it were, by moving into Tiger Aspect, where - instead of putting the finishing touches to Root, as they imagined - we went to work on Major Ron's Kama Britain for Kudos Productions.

This was - is - an excellently funny spoof of sex education films, in which Major Ronnie Ferguson, dressed in a towelling robe and little Jacuzzi slippers (and played, we hoped, by Peter Cook) would, over half a dozen episodes - for instance, the Kama Chingford, the Kama Kensington, the Kama Callil (thin women eyeing up right-on playwrights over noodles) - take us on a conducted tour of Britain's bedrooms. ('Ciao] Rock around the clock. Major Ron here . . .')

A proposal was sent to Michael Jackson at BBC 2, who turned it down as flat as a pancake. Happily, Alan Yentob then stepped in and, overruling Jackson, commissioned a pilot episode. At which point David Liddiment arrived from Granada as the BBC's new head of light entertainment, and he promptly turned it down again.

No he didn't. He summoned me and Atkinson to a meeting at the BBC, at which he was decent enough to say how much he liked this column, thereafter suggesting that Penny my beloved's Fat Man would make a funnier central character than Major Ron; further, that we should broaden the scope of the enterprise to cover not just this country's sexual mores, but also its various lifestyles, attitudes to class, etc. For some time, he said, he had wanted to produce a satirical soap opera along these lines - a kind of Brideshead Revisited meets EastEnders.

Atkinson and I agreed, and were then dispatched, under instruction not to breathe a word of our plans here or elsewhere, while he, Liddiment, went to work on one small legal problem. Should we, since the characters would all be based on real people, simply ignore this fact and hope for the best, or should we seek the real people's permission to have themselves enacted?

(The drawback, if we adopted the latter policy, was, of course, that the real people might get too involved, demanding the right to choose who should play them and so forth. Terence Blackler, for example, is notoriously vain and might insist that he be played by Charles Dance or Jeremy Irons, later visiting his lawyers when Dance or Irons appeared in a bald wig. Equally, the Fat Cornishman might wish to be played by Peter Cook, ignoring the fact that Cook is at least six stone underweight.)

In the event, Liddiment, on counsel's advice, decided to proceed without permission and, two weeks ago, commissioned me and Atkinson to write a pilot episode. At which point, I, myself, was momentarily confounded by two obstacles in my way: Judd's Paradox, as it will be known henceforth, and Sir Peregrine Worsthorne's article on class in last week's Sunday Telegraph.

Judd's Paradox came to light in the course of lunch on Monday.

'El Independo is an excellent idea,' he said. 'Who will you write it with?'

'As usual,' I said, 'I shall insist on working only with people who are cleverer than I am.'

Judd scratched his head and then ruled that I seemed to be clamped in a philosophical mistake, probably a paradox.

'On the theory,' he said, 'that it's rational to work only with one's intellectual superiors, you'd write El Independo with, for example, Steve Attridge, Geoff Atkinson, Roger From Chicago or, come to think of it, almost anyone, even - dare I say it? - Terence Blackler.

'However, if the theory's sound, Attridge, Atkinson or Roger From Chicago, as your intellectual superiors, would subscribe to it themselves and would therefore refuse to work with you. Indeed, no one could ever work with anyone else - unless they were too stupid to understand the theory.

'Of course, the theory may be false; in which case Attridge, Atkinson or Roger From Chicago would, obviously, see this and agree, for whatever reason, to work with you. However, if it's false, you have no reason to subscribe to it, and no reason, therefore, to work with them. I'll be off now.'

As if this wasn't bad enough,

I also had to contend with Sir

Peregrine Worsthorne's Principle, which, as stated in the Sunday Telegraph last week, is that officers should never mix with the rank and file.

I was caught, it seemed, in a double whammy. Were I to ignore Judd's Paradox and write El Independo with Attridge, Atkinson or Roger From Chicago, I couldn't, on Sir Peregrine's Principle, write it with them since they were clearly commoner than I was.

Who, then, could I write it with? On the face of it, and ignoring Judd's Paradox, only with someone who was my intellectual superior and of the same background as myself. This rules out Sir Peregrine himself, who is the same class as I am but hardly my intellectual better, and seems to leave only Justin Judd - or, at a pinch, Terence Blackler, who did go to a public school, albeit not one of the top 10. I'll puzzle it out and report next week.