Thursday, March 28, 2013

Ayckbourn Articles: Advice To Young Writers

As an Easter treat, we've dipped into the Ayckbourn Archive to find a never previously reprinted article by Sir Alan Ayckbourn.
Here Sir Alan offers advice to young writers about what they should consider when writing - of course, the advice applies to writers of any age! The piece was originally written in 1987, but is just as pertinent today.
Our regular monthly article by Sir Alan (for the March article, click here) chronicling his life leading to his 75th birthday continues as normal in April.

Advice For Young Writers (1987)

My advice to young dramatists would be:-

1) Decide what medium you want to write for.

2) Then find examples of writing in this form that you admire.  Try and analyse why they work.  Don't be afraid to be a bit derivative for a bit.  Nearly everyone is when they start out.

3) Initially, try and write something that obeys the rules of dramatic writing rather than shatters them. i.e. write something with a strong narrative, clearly told and with as few characters as possible who will develop with that narrative.

I say a few characters because it's far more difficult to develop several.  Particularly if each is to have the individual voice and speech pattern, which he ought to have.  And bear in mind that for every extra character added to the play, it gets more expensive to produce.  (Is your third postman really necessary?)

And talking of rules, it's useful to try and contain the period of action over 24 hours, too. It prevents sprawling.

4) If you're writing comedy, try and avoid any joke that requires you to make a detour in the narrative - however tiny - simply in order to make that joke.

5) If writing a tragedy, try and find the odd joke along the way.  Audiences need these escape valves.  Get them laughing with you rather than inadvertently at you.

6) Better still just write a play without trying to categorise it at all. Humour and sadness exist quite happily together and are the better for each other's company, quite often.

7) Be true to your characters. i.e. don't betray by making them behave uncharacteristically solely to tidy up the loose ends.

8) Talking of loose ends, never (in an ideal world) include any element in a play that isn't relevant to the whole. (Character, prop, embryonic situation). Everything should relate or reflect in some manner, however obliquely.

9) Remember plays are visual as well as aural things. Try and tell the story visually as well as verbally. Always look for ways to avoid flat static conversations. Some will say it's the responsibility of the director to do this.  It isn't.  All he'll do is invent business in order to cover up the lack of movement that exists in the script.  But that's papering over the cracks.

10) Find a balance between overwriting and hanging on like grim death to a script that no one wants to know about.  Put it in a drawer, set fire to it, whatever.  On to the next.  If you really believe you have talent then exercise it.  Don't fritter it on trivia but don't hoard it either.

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce this article without permission of the copyright holder.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ask The Archivist: Hark At Barker

Ask The Archivist is a regular feature allowing you to put your Alan Ayckbourn related questions to the playwright's archivist Simon Murgatroyd.
If you have a question regarding any aspect of Alan's work, email it to: (labelled Ask The Archivist) and we'll publish any interesting questions.

Question: Did Alan Ayckbourn really write television sketches for Ronnie Barker? (see yesterday's blog entry for context!)

Answer: Yes, he did. Although it's not well-publicised, Alan Ayckbourn wrote linking sketched for the show Hark At Barker. However, as Alan worked for the BBC at the time and the programme was on ITV, his contribution was never credited as being written by Alan Ayckbourn. The full story (reproduced from can be found below.

In 1964, Mr Whatnot became the first Ayckbourn play to transfer to London's West End. It starred Ronnie Barker as Lord Slingsby-Craddock, who would soon afterwards start on a path which would see him become one of the UK's most popular and well-remembered television comedians.
Following the short-lived West End run of Mr Whatnot, Alan applied for a job at the BBC as a radio drama producer, based in Leeds. He would still write and direct the occasional play, but his full time employment between 1965 and 1970 was with the BBC.
In 1969, Ronnie Barker's second television series was commissioned, Hark At Barker (following The Ronnie Barker Playhouse in 1968). It was a sketch show based around one of Barker's most famous creations Lord Rustless, an incomprehensible, cigar-smoking and sex-obsessed member of the aristocracy who lived at the stately home Chrome Hall. The character was so popular it would recur in the BBC series His Lordship Entertains and essentially re-appeared in Futtock's End and in several sketches for the popular comedy series The Two Ronnies.
The character, according to Barker (see below) was unashamedly based on Lord Slingsby-Craddock from Mr Whatnot and when it came to Hark At Barker, the comedian approached Alan to write some material for the show. Alan was under contract at the BBC and not allowed to write for other organisations (and definitely not the BBC's competitor ITV!), which he deftly solved by writing under the pseudonym of Peter Caulfield. The show had a similar format each week with Barker first introducing the episode as a continuity announcer before switching to Lord Rustless at Chrome Hall, who would pontificate on a chosen subject for the week frequently interspaced with comedy sketches. Alan apparently wrote much of the linking material that featured Rustless in his stately home.
Hark At Barker ran for two series between 1969 and 1970 with Alan writing for both series. With the exception of his only screenplay, Service Not Included, this remains to date the only time that Alan has written specifically for television.

Ronnie Barker on Alan Ayckbourn's involvement with Hark At Barker
Ask Barker if the role of Lord Slingsby-Craddock was a prototype for one of his most enduring creations, Lord Rustless, and he answers the question before it's finished.
"Yes he was. Absolutely. He was Lord Rustless mark one, definitely. I did a character at Oxford rep and it was a part that was supposed to be done by a woman and Frank Shelley, who was running Oxford rep and was God there, said, "No we won't play it as a woman, because we haven't any women. Ronnie, you can play it as an old man." So I started doing this old chap and it was very successful and it worked very well. That character stayed at the back of my mind and he became Lord Rustless, because I enjoyed playing him so much. He's also in The Picnic and By the Sea, but he just mutters in those. He's not called Lord Rustless, no-one's called anything. But to me he was Rustless. He was one of my favourite characters. When I did Hark at Barker - that was him, albeit with sketches. Alan Ayckbourn wrote all the links for that show but I don't think he admits it. He called himself Peter Caulfield, but I don't know whether he would like people to know that was him or not. He liked the character in Mr Whatnot, so he knew what the character was about. Rustless was really giving a lecture to the audience on a subject, such as "communication" or "servants" or something and he would illustrate it with sketches, which enabled me to pay lots of different parts.'

(extract from The Authorised Biography Of Ronnie Barker, Bob McCabe, BBC Books, 2004)

To submit your question to Ask The Archivist, email Simon Murgatroyd at:  labelled Ask The Archivist.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Alan Ayckbourn Resource Pack launched by University Of York

The University of York is now offering a free Alan Ayckbourn resource pack for teachers.
In 2011, the university acquired the Ayckbourn Archive - the single largest resource on Alan Ayckbourn in the world - offering a unique insight into a career in theatre spanning more than five decades.
Since 2011, the university has been running Ayckbourn workshops with schools around the region with the director Tom Wright. The experiences from this has culminated in the Alan Ayckbourn Resource Pack which is now available to download free from the University Of York website.
The Resource Pack is designed to provide English, Drama and Performing Arts teachers with lesson plans and detailed background information on Sir Alan’s work and written plays in general. Based on the successful Ayckbourn days for schools run by Tom Wright, the pack contains:

> A virtual tour of the Borthwick archive in general and the Ayckbourn archive in particular, including details on how material from different periods is preserved.
> Practical exercises to introduce your students to performing comedy and to improve their acting skills, applicable to any text.
> Research tips on how to use archive material to enrich student’s performances and understanding of the plays.
> A huge amount of background detail on Ayckbourn, his process and his plays.
> An introduction to some of the resources and opportunities available through higher education.

Alan Ayckbourn's Official Website has also contributed some material to the pack and is delighted to have been able to support the university in producing the pack and offering an essential Ayckbourn teaching aid.
The Alan Ayckbourn Resource Pack can be downloaded from the University Of York's Alan Ayckbourn page by clicking here.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

My Theatre Matters Campaign

Sir Alan Ayckbourn has joined prominent figures in British Theatre in supporting the new My Theatre Matters campaign.
The Nationwide campaign, launched by The Stage newspaper in association with the TMA and Equity, aims to galvanise support for theatres across the UK and to convince politicians to continue funding theatres.
Sir Alan has joined many voices from across the British theatre scene in supporting the campaign and emphasising how important theatres are to communities.
"A community which is blessed with a theatre should treasure it. For every time there is a live performance something unique occurs, something new is born, performed purely for that occasion. And simply through our being there, magic happens, reminding us through joy or tears what it means to be human. And afterwards when that fleeting moment’s gone forever you often look back and say, thank God I was there to share in it!" said Sir Alan.
My Theatre Matters will be publicised in theatres across the country as well as being featured in theatre programmes, The Stage newspaper and other events.
A website will offer a place for anyone to express why the theatre is important to them as well as providing tools to show support for the theatre such as letters and postcards which can be sent to MPs and council leaders.
Brian Attwood, editor of The Stage, explained why the campaign has been launched and its importance for highlighting the value of theatres to the community: “Many theatres are facing reductions, and in some cases 100% cuts, in support from their local authorities. It is the single biggest threat currently facing our industry. One need only look to see what has happened in Taunton, Sheffield, Newcastle and even in Westminster to see that this is a national problem facing theatres up and down the country. While there are many enlightened councils out there who continue to support their theatres, we fear there will also be many who see them as an easy target at a time of cuts. We need to show that theatres aren’t an easy target – they are public services that are really valued by their audiences.”
Further details about the My Theatre Matters campaign and how to support it can be found at the website

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ayckbourn Articles: Stephen Joseph

In the run-up to Alan Ayckbourn's 75th birthday in April 2014, a monthly feature reproduces articles by the playwright highlighting his life in theatre through the years.
Last month we looked at Alan Ayckbourn's first major role as an actor in 1956. This month we move forward to 1957 when Alan Ayckbourn first joined the Library Theatre, Scarborough, and met Stephen Joseph; the most influential figure in the playwright's life.
Here Alan gives his thoughts about Stephen Joseph in an article from the early 2000s.

Perhaps the most enduring description I’ve ever given of Stephen was that he was half genius, half madman!.
Stephen would appear a shy man when you first met him, always staring at his blotter.  But this didn’t stop him doing anything and everything in his power to keep a fledgling theatre company alive.  He was often busy delivering coal to pay for the theatres rehearsal salaries.
Stephen was the consummate theatre creature, a pioneer who ran things wholly from within, where he knew you could work it best. At work, habitually dressed in paint-stained overalls, hammer in hand, he looked like some sort of socialist realist poster: a hero of Yorkshire theatre. Whilst on formal occasions, I can remember, in a dinner suit, he didn’t half frighten the mayor!
His professional mentoring of others was never really for self-serving purposes; he simply believed that anybody could more or less do anything in theatre if they wanted to badly enough, and he had such an ability to teach and mentor that has stood many, myself included, in such good career stead.
Stephen was quite unique in his time in that he made friends with amateurs rather than snubbing them, and involved the local dramatic societies with the professional workings of the early theatre in the round company in various ways. Indeed, he was always urging that theatre be taken into the community.
His passion for theatre in the round and new writing has made Scarborough synonymous with both, and that is truly the lasting legacy of this wonderful, mad, genius of a man.

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn