How I got into the whole scriptwriting thing, right, Channel Four set up a sitcom-writing competition in 1999. I entered it, won the younger age group section, and as a prize got to pick a US sitcom. They'd fly me over, I'd see a real sitcom being filmed and get to hang out in the writers room.
I chose 'Friends'. Fine, said Channel Four, we'll fly you out in a couple of months. I arrange a week off from the electronics factory at which I work, and may, or may not, have a) told everyone I was going to be mates with Matthew Perry now, and b) had had a dream where I went on a skiing holiday with the cast (not the crew note) of the show and we all got along famously and mostly hung out in the apres ski bar. Rachel let me share her mug.
A few days before I go, the tickets arrive with a small note. Channel Four regretted they were unable to arrange getting me backstage with the Friends writers, or seeing an episode being filmed, but they had arranged for me to hang out with the cast of crew of 'Suddenly Susan' instead.
I wondered, as I sat in the factory flicking small bits of resin off data recording heads designed for the Turkish Underground (the transport system, not the political revolutionaries*) what had happened behind the scenes. Had the Friends producers been worried about a spy in their midst, a Limey fifth columnist who would have taken all their best stuff, made off with their women (Rachel again) taught them how to swear properly and mocked their pronunciation of the word 'aluminium''? Clearly they held their nerve until the last minute, then some kind of residual fear of the forces of King George had kicked in, and they'd bumped me to 'Suddenly Susan'.
I decide to go anyway, and getting to LA, immediately discover that the hotel I've been put up in is a few hundred miles from Burbank, where Suddenly Susan is filmed. I do not have enough money to to both a) travel to the filming/script meetings every day, and b) eat.
At which point I decide to give it up as a bad job, ring the Suddenly Susan people to politely tell them it's not really working out, then spend the week wandering around the Los Angeles Natural History Museum and the Los Angeles Museum of Modern Art instead. At the Los Angeles Natural History Museum I meet a specialist in woodlice (only they're called 'pillbugs' over there, awwwww), and at the Los Angeles Museum of Modern Art I wander around an exhibition by Richard Serra which slightly blows my mind.
I also walk past a number of Mexican gangs, and am mildly accosted by crackheads (because only Mexican gangs and crackheads walk around Los Angeles, it turns out). Basically, I have a brilliant time.
Back at the factory however, I start to wonder all over again how it was that it all got changed at the last minute. Suddenly (Susan) it occurs to me that maybe it wasn't the writers or producers at all, maybe the whole thing had been bopped on the head by a different interested party altogether...
Had Matthew Perry heard about, and been threatened by my impression of David Bowie that went down very well in the resin-cooling department?
Had Courtney Cox been upset at not being cast in the light operetta I had been working on recently, not uncoincidentally set in a cornish electronics factory - standout musical number for the female lead entitled 'He'll Never Look At Me, I'm Just A Spot Welder'?
Was Lisa Kudrow upset she had never been offered my story about the superglue and the walkman to be worked up into an amusing song and thus kibboshed the whole thing?
I decide the only way to find out is to work my way up the comedy ladder until I stand astride the comedy world like a colosuss, finally able to summon the great and good into my presence and interrogate them under the spotlight gaze of my authority. Quitting the electronics factory, I move to Canterbury, get a job in the world's greatest bookshop and start writing sketches for Smack the Pony.
EIGHT YEARS LATER
The other Green Wing writers and I are out boozing up with the Quiet American Producer, although he's not quite so quiet now, I think we just spooked him a bit last time. I decide that It Is Time, and bring up the matter of the competition.
AMERICAN PRODUCER: ... this would be what, the second, third series? Yeah, I was Executive Producer then, sure.
ME: Do you remember, do you have any recollection at all of anyone asking if some lanky british bloke could come and hang around the filming and writers' meetings? And if there were any specific reasons why this had to be cancelled?
American Producer think quite hard for some time. Finally:
AMERICAN PRODUCER: I don't remember anything about that at all.
It was the David Bowie impression. I fucking knew it.
* I have to do that joke every time.