William Donaldson's Week: There's a flaw in my character

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The Independent Online
HERE'S a turn-up: we've had a green light of sorts on a new Root series set in England. The question is, do I tell Geoffrey Strachan of Methuen, who is geared up to publish Root Around Britain in September as a brand-new concept - a TV tie-out?

He'd be most disappointed, since he considers anything on television a rotten advertisement for a book. Indeed, he now inserts a clause in all contracts under which the author guarantees that the work won't, at some future date, embarrass everyone in a prime- time slot; thereafter, over-eggs the pudding by inserting a sub-clause that obliges a TV company - should the main clause be broken - to run a disclaimer after every episode to the effect that the disgusting adaptation viewers have just seen bears no similarity to any book of the same name currently on sale.

Not a word, then, to Geoffrey Strachan. The point is, getting a new Root series into a prime-time slot, or anywhere else, has been the mother of all struggles. So well done everyone, especially me.

Here was the way of it. A year ago, Pete the Schnoz and I were commissioned to write outlines for a new six-part series. This was submitted to ITV's central controller, Marcus Plantin, whose office, after a delay of about nine months, turned it down as flat as a bedspread.

You'd have panicked; Mark Chapman and Justin Judd - director and producer of the new series, like the last - gave up the ghost completely. I was magnificent. I located Chapman and Judd on a Mediterranean beach, where, bloated from the proceeds of Root Into Europe, they reclined like fat voluptuaries. I hauled them back to London and read the riot act. We'll not take this lying down, I said.

'Don't be silly,' they said. 'It's hard enough getting anything passed by Plantin's office at the moment, let alone something that has already been rejected.'

They had forgotten who they were speaking to. I squared the shoulders and boxed on. Against a blizzard of derision from Chapman and Judd, I persuaded Pete the Schnoz to sit down with me and write it again, and then, when Pete the Schnoz had had enough, I battled on alone.

For six weeks, I didn't eat or sleep. I dug in deeper, snarling with resolve. My personal life collapsed, allowing Penny, my beloved, to make her tasteless move to the West Country with her fat regatta man.

Then, on Friday, we were told that Plantin's office now took a positive view of the proposal, had suggested, indeed, that Pete the Schnoz and I be hired to write a script.

Agog to pass on this brilliant news, I went off to meet a young man called Jolyon Crisp, who, following the publication of Root Into Europe as a paperback, wanted to interview me for a clutch of continental magazines.

'Astonishing news]' I cried. 'The new Root . . .'

'Do you mind?' snapped Crisp. 'I'm trying to think.'

He was in the thrall, I now saw, of some private inner rage. I maintained a polite silence while he growled angrily to himself, and then, since at this rate we could be here all day, I ventured another small conversational initiative.

'The fact is,' I said, 'that I and Pete the Schnoz . . .'

'I'll do the talking, thank you,' said Crisp, eyes blazing with hatred for the world. 'It's all bollocks, do you see?'

'Oh dear,' I said.

'You're right for once,' snarled Crisp. 'Take my problem. I can't spell, never could. At school, the chaplain asked me what distinguished man from the animals. 'An ability to wonder,' I said. 'How do you spell that?' he said. 'W-a-n-d-e-r, fathead,' I said. 'Very interesting,' he said, and then he was off for 10 minutes on how the meaning of life consisted in man's ability to change his environment. It's all crap, do you see?'

'You seem to be very disappointed,' I said.

'I am,' he said. 'I've embraced respectability. But I've trained my children, five and seven, to hiss and pull faces whenever Mrs Thatcher's name is mentioned. Last weekend I took them strawberry picking, but I encouraged them, since the system was a rip-off, to eat more than they put in their baskets. I'm worried about the girl, aged five. 'That's immoral,' she said. I clipped her round the ear.'

'We've got the go-ahead on a new Root series,' I said.

Crisp groaned. 'That's a mistake,' he said. 'The last one was appalling - not least that disgusting moment in Italy when Root suddenly became vulnerable.'

I was surprised, since we'd been proud of this. 'We are going to some lengths in the new series,' I said, 'to make Root more sympathetic.'

'You're barking mad,' said Crisp. 'The point of Root is his invulnerability. Root vulnerable is simply embarrassing, as if in the book he'd included a letter apologising for the tone of all the others.'

I was downcast, to say the least. 'What's the answer?'

'There isn't one. Root can't be transferred to television.'

Here was a blow. Young Crisp is certainly right, as Geoffrey Strachan would be the first to agree. Let's hope nobody else finds out.