Joking Apart, It's Not an Easy Career

Article excerpt

Byline: By Jamie Diffley

Heard the one about the mum-of-three hoping to become a comedy writer? Jamie Diffley went along to meet her

The North East has produced a wealth of comedy writers. Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood had audiences howling of late with their earthy portrayals of life among the working classes, while Rowan Atkinson helped write early episodes of Blackadder and had a hand in Mr Bean.

Last year's Chronicle's Young Reviewer of the Year, Alison Carr, has been heaped with praise over her short play Patricia Quinn Saved My Life, which played at this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The most famous comedy writer from the region is perhaps Ian Le Frenais, whose credits include The Likely Lads, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and a host of films with partner Dick Clement. Oh, and they did Porridge.

"I love Porridge," says Amanda Ward-Baker, the latest hoping to break into comedy writing. "I love all those old-fashioned sitcoms where the humour really comes from the characters."

To some, being a writer is everything they ever wanted to do. Like football or music, it is a pastime many indulge in, but only the lucky few get to call it their job rather than their hobby.

Amanda is at the crossroads where she might just be among those lucky few. The former solicitor has been writing for as long as she can remember, but still refers to herself as a housewife. She has produced two novels ( both "with the agents" ( and has had plays performed as part of community theatre projects.

But, thanks to a BBC competition, she is on the verge of making that last ( and very long ( leap. The 40-year-old has made it to the final eight of its latest talent search for a sitcom writer from the 4,000 or so who entered.

House Normal is the story of 28-year-old John, a single man whose craving for normality jars with the madness from rest of his family.

As a finalist, Amanda last week attended a workshop with her fellow finalists in London where the scripts were scrutinised by industry professionals. She now has to submit a final version ( which involves a major rewrite ( and send it back. Three will be chosen for a showcase at a London theatre with the winner having their work filmed.

No pressure, then.

"It's one of those things where, at first, you don't give yourself any chance and are just delighted to get to the last eight," says Amanda. "Going to London for me was the prize. That was absolutely fantastic.

"But then you wouldn't be human if you didn't want it to go further. It's like being a kid waiting for Christmas but not knowing if Christmas is actually going to come."

Amanda does most of her writing at her home in Whitley Bay ( Ian Le Frenais' home town. He broke into the comedy mainstream in the early 70s with his partner Dick Clement.

The pair met in a London pub, formed a friendship both personally and professionally, and went on to write The Likely Lads, Porridge and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.

They have lived for more than 25 years in Los Angeles where they have had a big impact in the film industry, penning hits like The Commitments, The Rock and Still Crazy. They were also responsible for Honest, a film starring most of the members of ex-girl band All Saints. It wasn't their greatest work.

But the sign of any good writer is determination. Le Frenais and Clement brushed its lack of success under the carpet and carried on regardless. The past couple of years have seen them concentrate on bringing Auf Wiedersehen, Pet back to the small screen ( to huge critical acclaim.

Their latest script is currently in film development with Men Behaving Badly star Neil Morrissey.

But for burgeoning writers, it's not box office flops they have to contend with and overcome; it's the mountain of rejection letters.

"You have to expect rejection at first. Everybody has experienced it," says Amanda. …