Notes from behind the screen

they do not mean to but they do

30th April 2017

​Over several years I have regularly shared a bench with editor Nick J Webb. The darkness of the editing process has got deeper as broadcasters have become poorer, the birth pangs more agonizing as they’ve wanted for more for less. We bleat, but it’s not as if we’re mining or cleaning cars or turning screws on a production line.

Or is it. These days I frequently work with middle-aged subjects, especially men, encouraging them to emote. The process is made easier if they are engaged in a task that keeps their heads at 90 degrees to the camera. Not for nothing do Morse and Lewis and Starsky and Hutch reveal themselves most while driving.

Looking away and instinctively performing a task unlocks the wellsprings. Absorbed in what’s ahead, the road, the screen, the widgets passing on the belt, they gush like Old Faithful. The older the geezer, the better it is.

Of course Nick and I are West End types. We drink Italian coffee and wear Japanese denim. We seek enlightenment and if troubled, therapy. We cry as often as possible, but usually of course, with laughter at gags; we read the arts section first. We’re feminists.

NW is a twin. He's on the right or the left.
NW is a twin. He's on the right or the left.

Last week, staring ahead, something new emerged, a shared experience endured simultaneously, apart. We’d both been home at the weekend, to parents old enough to have stopped work long ago, reflective, wistful, unwise.

Nick’s a musician. His dad saw him parking outside and got out the video of him performing on TV. Again. Nick has West End hair, long enough to be arty, short enough to show he understands. Back in the day, there on the telly, he had swirly Pre-Raphaelite locks, something his pa used to comment on. Frequently: Why couldn’t he cut it? Now, PTA dancing on the Welsh rug, perhaps emboldened by a schooner of Bristol Cream, dad was at it again: His hair looked great then! Why couldn’t he grow it long?

I was in Liverpool, disabled, perhaps, by a shortage of Bristol Cream, cloistered with my parents. We went to a delightful baby-naming event, a thing of sunlight set in a budding grove. It was chilly: I wore West End clothes, artisanal, international, and just as unsuitable, said my mother, as the sort of outfit that yes, I certainly was going to leave the house in, back in 1979. It was the Italian cashmere beanie that caused the most pain: why couldn’t I take it off? 

you're not leaving the house looking like that
you're not leaving the house looking like that

My friend and I are adults, husbands and fathers. We stalk the byways of Soho feeling very denizen, nodded at by familiars who read the codes in his right length hair and my heather-mixture trousering. In the half-light of the Avid, looking ahead and lost in our task, out it all came. We’d felt twelve again. Reduced, infuriated, belittled and of course, right. A couple of cups of high-grown Sumatran added fuel. We raged, we laughed, we hugged. His dad wears a cardi made by Saint Michael, possibly left under cover of darkness outside Oxfam by Mrs Val Doonican. My mum favours shoes that look like one shoe cut down the middle, possibly by a pastry chef. In beige.

He’d told his dad to poke it. I’d told my dad to tell my mum that the last time I’d taken fashion advice from her was when I was fifteen and she was wrong then as well. And then it was back to work. Men’s work.