KNIFE & WIFE: THE TELLY-GANZA
In case you stupidly missed the first part of our Knife & Wife TV special production feature, here’s what’s going on: set to be broadcast in November as part of Channel 4’s Comedy Lab series, the half-hour Knife & Wife animation stars the voices of
Murphy, Kevin Eldon and
Putner. It’s being produced by Siriol, the company behind
Superted, and it’s written by Bubblegun’s very own in-house drunk, Mr Biffo.
Quickly now: the second part is about to start…
WE TWO DRUNKS
About five years ago, myself, and
Mr Tim Moore – now a comic travel writer of some repute – wrote a sit-com entitled We Two Vets. We did it primarily to get out of the system all of the pathetic and juvenile in-jokes which we found so hilarious, and other people got annoyed by.
We sent off to a million production companies what was probably the most self-indulgent and un-filmable sit-com ever written. We fully expected to receive a torrent of abuse in return. Astonishingly, we didn’t. Instead, out of the half dozen companies who could be bothered to reply to this hopeless piece of comic fiction, there was one that didn’t hate it or abuse us. And it was Planet 24: the company responsible for The Big Breakfast, which was then looking to move into situation comedy production.
Planet 24 snapped up a 12-month option in We Two Vets, but – despite the best attempts of one Robert Popper and one Mark Freeland – failed to get the thing made. Part of this was down to the abject failure of Sunnyside Farm; a dreadful BBC comedy, with some startling similarities to We Two Vets. Some of it was down to the senior management at Planet 24 expressing concerns over the level of animal-targeted violence in the We Two Vets script. The rest of it was down to the Mooreston and myself not really knowing what the Dirty Dickens we were doing.
BAD OF BADNESS
But the We Two Vets experience wasn’t an entire waste of time. A year or so later, Mark Freeland popped up at Sky, as the head of development. Remembering that he had laughed at the We Two Vets script, he bravely commissioned myself to write a film for the then-embryonic – and now-defunct – Sky Pictures.
Over three of the most grueling months of my life, I scratched out three drafts of a screenplay entitled North Of Watford. With my mind, fingers and eyes bleeding – it was then that I returned to the Knife & Wife characters, using them as a sort of “brain-salve”, to ease my shredded synapses. Though she tried to be polite about it, my then agent clearly hated the script. As did the production company Absolutely – the people behind Stressed Eric.
In fact, everyone hated the script, with the exception of Mark Freeland – who by then had been banned from ever again letting my name within two miles of Sky’s commissioning process – and Robert Popper; the other man who had liked We Two Vets. At that point, Mr Popper was at Granada Television, and Granada had no intention of developing an animated sit-com.
A couple of years on, and Robert Popper had landed a job as a commissioning editor at Channel 4. Being in charge the next series of the station’s experimental Comedy Lab series – which has spawned the likes of Trigger Happy TV – he was after new one-off projects, to fast-track into production.
Within days of me getting a call summoning me to Channel 4’s sci-fi-style headquarters, Mr Popper – remembering the previous Knife & Wife script – had given the greenlight for the characters to be part of the next Comedy Lab run. I was given the opportunity of tweaking the existing script, or coming up with something completely new.
Wanting to start with a clean slate, I went for the latter option. Being both naïve and drunk, I figured I could probably churn out the Funniest Script Ever Written in less than a fortnight. How wrong I was. In two weeks I rushed out a steaming pile of horse cack. What it did not do was particularly please either myself, or Robert Popper.
But what it did do was establish a few basic rules of the Knife & Wife universe; Knife & Janine’s relationship, and the fact they had a teenage son – here called “Brent”, and older than in the final draft. Elements of the script – Knife taking old folk on a day out and running afoul of farmers; Knife confronting the boys playing football outside his house – remained through all subsequent drafts, but not without major changes. In fact, there’s only one brief moment in this first draft that made it through all the revisions intact.
MENTALLY ILL VAGRANT
On reflection, I was trying too hard to establish Knife as an acerbic character. He’s openly offensive towards disabled people and lesbians, punches his wife in the face, chops three old people into pieces, and kills a mentally ill vagrant.
Bearing in mind our intention to make the show accessible to a 6.30pm audience (even if it would be broadcast at 11pm as part of Comedy Lab), this was plainly stupid on my part. Also, the focus on Knife left Janine and “Brent” sorely underdeveloped – something addressed in the later scripts. Also, the character of Charlton, Janine’s idiot brother, is wholly absent here.
To talk in clichés, it was a script in search of a story, with Knife’s vague desire to prove how popular he is left sorely under-baked. But hey – reading it again now, there are bits here that I really like. As you’re so deeply important, you can see for yourself, because look: here’s a chance to read an extract from the first half of the script.
NEXT TIME: What happened during the next 17-and-a-half drafts, choosing an animation company, and problems with the line about Buzz Aldrin’s “first poo on the moon”…