London Screenwriters' Festival

Paul Bassett Davies: He’s Not A Lumberjack, But He *Is* OK

Posted on: March 3rd, 2011 by Lucy V Hay No Comments

So we thought we’d let you know all about Paul – no, not the alien in the camper van on the road with Simon Pegg, but  The London Comedy Writers’ Festival’s new creative director, Paul Bassett Davies.  Lucy V caught up with him to discuss radio, The Magic Roundabout, naked boy scouts and women’s shoes… Enjoy!


You’ve worked for radio a lot. Does this mean you don’t have “a face for TV” – and which radio play or commercial was your fave and why?

There’s a lot that works better on radio than on TV. Like nudity, for example. But I love radio because it’s such a creative medium and it’s more fun than TV. People in TV, especially TV comedy, tend to take themselves very seriously. When you do radio you suspect that probably no one is listening, or they’re doing the ironing or something, so you’re a bit more relaxed. I try to take my work very seriously but not necessarily myself. If you’re asking which of my own radio plays is my favourite it’s one called The Ancient Mariner’s Wife or possibly one about Coleridge and Wordsworth called Spy Nozy and the Poets which was based on strange but true events.

Of all the comedy stars you’ve worked with, which have you wanted to kill THE LEAST and why?

I worked a couple of times, briefly, with Spike Milligan and I wouldn’t have wanted to kill him because I was in awe of him. Although he did, in fact, die shortly afterwards, possibly as a result of the collaboration. But Milligan is one of my favourite comedy writers, along with Dickens, Samuel Beckett, Wodehouse and Seth MacFarlane. Also, when I was starting out I wrote for Roy Hudd and he was very sweet, and good to his writers. Usually gag writers bitch and moan if their gag doesn’t get a laugh, and blame the performer, but you couldn’t do that with Roy. He made what you wrote better. It was a good test: if Roy Hudd couldn’t sell your gag to an audience you went home and thought about a different career. Everyone else I’ve ever worked with can go and fuck themselves, except anyone I may run into at the festival.

Ledge director Ken Russell once asked you to provide naked boy scouts. Why?

I’d written a weird music film for the band The Stranglers and Ken Russell was kind of interested. He had just made GOTHIC followed by a bizarre pop promo for Cliff Richard. I went to his penthouse flat with Hugh Cornwell from the band. As a director I found Ken Russell a very strange colour. He was very purple, like a lobster holding its breath. Something crustacean about him, anyway. It was ten in the morning and we got through two bottles of wine and then tried to leave but he’d accidentally locked us all in. The flat was being refurbished and they’d done something to the locks. He climbed out of the window and I cherish the sight of him clambering over the rooftops of Baker Street to try and find the builders. I also cherish a copy of the script on which he scrawled various notes, one of which was: “Can the boy scouts be naked?” which I thought was a very Ken Russell note. The film didn’t get made.

You’re currently writing a comedy drama series about suicide, but that doesn’t sound very funny to us! Convince us with your wordery skillz:

It’s about suicide in the same way that Six Feet Under is about funerals. It’s a kind of context, really. It’s quite a dark comedy drama. Suicide is a big taboo, it seems. We’re quite happy to laugh at murder – think of all the comedies about bumping people off, and farcical plots about trying to hide bodies. But self-murder pushes odd buttons. maybe it’s the idea of having so much power over your own existence. I’m not trying to offend anyone, and it’s going to be serious as well as being funny.

You wrote the screenplay for the feature film of The Magic Roundabout. Did you have to take many drugs to do that and if not, what did you do to get into character on that one?

I think it was a question of the wrong drugs. I should have stuck with mushrooms, instead of crystal meth and Ketamine. I’m credited with the screenplay of that film but there’s about half of it I don’t recognize. Six writers came after me and improved my script in the same way that a heretic is improved by being burned alive. But my son, who was seven at the time liked it, so there. And I did create a new character that was played by Ray Winstone, so that was nice. And I met Joanna Lumley, and if meeting Joanna Lumley doesn’t cheer you up there’s something wrong with you.

Tell us all about Euroscript:

Euroscript runs writing courses – mainly screenwriting – and offers other services to writers, like script reports and development. We are all professional writers and Euroscript is a collective: no one is in charge and we all work for ourselves and each other. Bunch of damn communists, if you ask me. Anyway, we take a hands-on approach with our workshops: we believe that the only way to learn how to write is by writing. There are lots of people out there giving lectures about writing, thank you very much, but lectures about writing are like poems about swimming: they may inspire you but they don’t improve your technique. We like to get stuck in with writers and work on things with them. We ran the script clinics at the LSF last October, and for this festival we’re going to run The All Day Joke Bar, where you can drop in and practice some basic gag dynamics, and also an all-day production workshop called Let’s Do The Show Right Here which will use material that delegates send or bring in; we’ll workshop it, rehearse it with a director and actors, and produce a comedy show by the end of the day to be performed and filmed. Visit the website here.

When I met you, you confessed to wearing women’s (flat) shoes that day. Do you still have them and have you graduated to high heels yet?

I’ve got small feet. And you know what they say: “Small feet – tight scripts with punchy yet quirky gags and excellent, well-rounded characters.” What you didn’t know that day was that I was also wearing an antique red Victorian corset with fine lace trim and sheer silk stockings under my tweed suit. Mmm.

Now, please can I plug my blog? The latest post is about the Oscars but I’ll do a new one soon. And there are lots of other things on it if you look. Here it is.

Thanks Paul! Meet the rest of the CWF Team here.

DYK? Various sites and blogs are offering a whopping £25 off your CWF ticket. Check out the Facebook page to find them.

Leave a Reply