It’s a fancy envelope. It’s from the Beeb. They’re having a party. And you’re invited!
Initial reaction: they still love me. Secondary reaction: god, I hope it’s not like the last one. Third reaction: or the one before that.
You phone in to accept. The day comes. You turn up.
They’ve picked a good venue. Again. Big, impressive, unusual. It’s a bit of treat really, going somewhere you’ve never been to before. The invite said it was about Vision or Talent or Networking or something – a way of showing how valued your contributions are to the BBC, a little thank you. It will be nice to be thanked, you think, as you make your way past the phalanx of grey-suited door-people to hand your coat in. You look around. But you don’t recognise anyone. The coat-lady gives you a docket. You head for the bar.
There are lots of people. Lots and lots of people. All here to be thanked. You still can’t see anyone you know. There are quite a few people standing a bit bewildered looking round to see if there’s anyone they know. Some people are huddled in laughing groups. You see someone you know. You are about to wave but you realise you only know him from the TV. He presents something and is famous. Technically speaking you don’t really know him at all.
People scan your face to see if they know you, either personally or, even better, because you’re famous. But they don’t and you’re not and they look away to scan elsewhere.
The drinks are interesting. People in uniforms push silver trays of things under your nose for you to nibble. You don’t know what to do with the cocktail stick that came with the sausage. (When you get home you’ll find twelve cocktails sticks in your pocket and three olive pips.)
You don’t mind about not knowing anyone. Sooner or later the BBC is going to come over and thank you. In fact, there’s John, head of who you're working for, and you know him, obviously. He knows you. He sees you, smiles cheerily, waves and hurries off to talk to Tony, who has just had yet another series commissioned, by the window. He will talk to Tony all night. You don’t want to interrupt. So you don’t. You expect John to come over at some point or at least stop talking to Tony for a couple of minutes. But he didn’t at the last party. And he won’t at this.
Aha. Kate is almost BBC in her own right, she's in charge of something or other hugely influential. And you know her. But she has her back to you and is talking to two other people you don’t recognise. They are huddled by the wall. In fact, she has her back to everyone apart from these two people. She will have her back to everyone all night. She won’t come and say thank you. Perhaps she’s here to be thanked so why should she go around thanking anyone, especially you? All you ever see of Kate is her back. Apart from the two people she’s talking to that’s just about all anyone’s going to see of her.
It’s Alan! Now if he’s not the BBC, who is? But he’s scowling. He doesn’t seem to want to be here. You catch his eye but he’s already leaving. Ten minutes is all he’s got for this kind of thing. He’s very important.
Now there’s that lady, what’s her name, Jana, talking to Peter. They are definitely the BBC and, hey, her name was on the invite inviting you. She actually asked you to this party. I mean, you don’t go to a party and not say hi to the host. Especially if they want to thank you. You approach her. She glances round, with a ‘who the hell are you?’ look on her face. Peter scowls, he was in the middle of saying something. You pretend that actually you were just passing by and you pass by. They carry on talking, a bit relieved that you weren’t about to speak to them.
The music stops. So here it is. The speeches. A lot of people stop talking. But not everyone. A lot of shushing goes around but those who want to talk talk. Maybe they don’t want to be thanked. It seems very rude especially with Jana or Peter or John or somebody up there profusely thanking everyone. But anyway. You bathe in their gratitude. You are told that without you the BBC wouldn’t be what it is. You are told that you’re so immensely talented it’s a privilege to work with you. You are told that creative people are at the heart of what the BBC does. You are told that innovation, originality and freedom to do what you do best is all that has ever mattered to them. You clap wildly at the end. The microphone goes off with a click and the music starts up again. John hurries off to talk to Tony. Kate disappears into another huddle in the corner. Jana and Peter move aside and nobody dares to disturb them.
And then you see someone you know, really know, to the extent that you can just walk up, say hello and talk to them. They are a writer. You have worked together on several shows. You walk up, say hello and talk to them. They are with a couple of other writers you’ve seen before and know vaguely. You try to talk but the noise is so loud now that you can only pretend to hear what they’re saying by nodding vigorously when they look earnest and shrugging when they look bemused. You get the gist that they’re not happy. None of the writers are happy. One has just had their episode rewritten by somebody else. Another hasn’t had a call even to say he won’t be getting a call. A third is a core writer who disagreed with the series script editor at a story conference about a choice of actor and is probably in for the chop. Another has done nine drafts of a script because the exec kept changing her mind. They say it’s not worth the money. Another is cheesed off because their editor always phones on a Friday and asks for delivery on Monday. You’re cheesed off too. You wonder if writers just aren’t always a bit cheesed off by something. But a producer comes along whom you know and like and you remember working for them for a couple of years and not being cheesed off once. They have a couple of things in development but really they’ve just bought a house in France and spend most of their time fishing these days.
All the writers have something in development. Development means they are thinking about it. Or they’ve talked to someone about it. Or they’ve had lunch over it. It might even mean that someone intends to commission it. In fact, one of them is on a third draft but the producer has just left to join an independent company and the new producer doesn’t like the title or the characters or the theme or the style and is asking what relevance this story has to young people. Nobody expects any of their ideas actually to get made. They all glance round at John and Tony chatting earnestly in the corner.
Then you see some of the cast from the show you’re working on. They are with the Series Producer but, when you saunter across, the Series Producer looks baffled. Your presence here doesn’t help his career. He does not have any use for you at the moment. He doesn’t introduce you to the actors for whom you have written numerous scripts. Not introduced, the actors move away and talk amongst each other. The Series Producer mutters something and hurries away to talk to the Series Script Editor who is with the Series Story Editor. You wonder if there’s something about you they’re not saying. They didn’t, for instance, say thank you. You go to the toilet and realise, as you’re washing your hands, that the nervousness on the faces of the other writers is now the primary ambiance on your own face. You’re glad it’s dark out there.
And eventually it all comes to an end. You’ve swapped some e-mail addresses but it’s unlikely you’ll make any contact beyond a ‘hi’. You’ve plotted revolution among writers but nobody’s ever going to do anything about it. You were thanked in a collective sort of a way so that was alright. You think about it all on the way home but can’t seem to draw any conclusions.
You wonder if you should ever go again.
But the invitation comes the following year and you phone in to accept.
One day it won't come. Then you'll be deeply upset.
You think about all this but can’t seem to draw any conclusions.