I’m speaking at the 2018 Copywriting Conference

March 9, 2018   -   0 comments   -  

copywriting conference logo

I’ve been to The Copywriting Conference a couple of times now, and it’s ended up being one of my favourite professional events of the year.

There’s a good mix of speakers and delegates, and I’ve even ended up employing people I met in the breakout sessions and during post-event drinks.

So, I’m very grateful to have been asked to speak at this year’s event, where I’ll lead two sessions about idea generation.

The 10 most important characteristics of high-performing digital organisations

December 14, 2016   -   0 comments   -  

Almost every company on the planet’s future lies in the digital sphere, but what are the characteristics that enable high performing digital organisations to be successful?

I worked with Ash Roots, the Director of Digital at Direct Line Group, to write a white paper that aimed to get close to answering that question.

The result was The 10 Most Important Characteristics of Digital Organisations, an ambitious project that pulled in data and opinions from senior digital professionals across multiple industries.

So, please… click the image below and read, share and argue.

Top 10 important characteristics of digital firms

Annoyance at over-excited theatregoers isn’t about class, it’s about respect

July 11, 2014   -   0 comments   -  

There’s an increasingly symbiotic relationship between the stage and the screen.

Every year, more and more TV and film actors decide to tread the boards, leading theatres to enjoy larger and more successful productions than they have done in years. The actors get to scratch the itch that has been bothering them (usually one about not being a ‘proper’ actor until they have starred in the West End), the theatres make an obscene amount of money, the public gets intimate access to some of the world’s biggest stars, and the theatre industry is left healthier.

But ‘the theatre’ – the nebulous concept which encapsulates the industry, the productions and the artform itself – may not be faring so well. As more celebrities populate casts and more new theatregoers flock to see their performances, the traditions of the theatre are ignored and eroded.

At the moment, Martin Freeman is playing Richard III at London’s Trafalgar Studios, and Hobbit fans who have gone to see him are simply so overawed by his very existence that they are bursting into applause when he appears onstage and when he is mid-dialogue, ruining both his concentration and that of other members of the audience with more self-restraint.

Martin Freeman as Richard III

Martin Freeman as Richard III

The behaviour has been described by some commentators as “disruptive and unnecessary”, but others have taken the line that it’s better to get people into theatre at any cost rather than tut at them for not knowing how to behave.

I advocate the former.

When we take children to the cinema for the first time, we do not pat them on the head for running around, bouncing on seats, crying because they dropped their popcorn, asking to play Angry Birds on your phone and shouting out – we teach them that behaviour like that isn’t appropriate and, over time, they get the picture.

Parents have been modifying their children’s in-cinema behaviour for generations, and the movie industry is in fine health. It’s not oppressive or classist to teach people that acting like 11-year-olds at a One Direction concert during a Shakespearean history is unseemly; it’s a public service.

What’s more, a lot of this behaviour isn’t even coming from children, or teenagers, but from adults who have so little self control they urgently need to tell Martin Freeman that they are pleased he is alive the moment they see him.

Read: How to get your kids into the theatre

They are not applauding Richard III, or even Martin Freeman as Richard III; rather they are merely applauding Martin Freeman, and that can wait until later.

Dame Eileen Atkins says the practice “ultimately breaks the spell of the story”, and I agree. The rest of the audience deserves to enjoy the performance they paid for without interruption or irritation. Not cheering doesn’t kill the tension, but doing it does.

If an actor has a large enough fanbase that their presence will attract new people to the theatre, then perhaps they should make an announcement on their website, or Twitter account, or in the programme or over the auditorium speakers that they would appreciate it if the cast and audience were respected during scenes.

If someone loves an actor so much they have the burning desire to whoop and bang their hands together upon seeing that they are flesh and blood, then their adoration will extend to keeping their damn mouths shut and their limbs still for a couple of hours.

At a time where regional theatres are closing and even big-name productions are struggling, it’s vital for theatre to be inclusive, but not at the expense of its own identity.

Young or otherwise undisciplined theatregoers, laying down not-insubstantial sums of money to see A-listers onstage but who don’t know any better shouldn’t be hounded out of the building – but nor should their behaviour be excused or permitted to the detriment of practice, productions and performances.

Despite what handwringers claim, this isn’t about class or education; it’s about respect.

Bye, Rik

June 11, 2014   -   0 comments   -  

Very few celebrity deaths bother me.

In fact, I think the last one that hit any kind of level deeper than “that’s sad, I feel sorry for their family” was Steve Irwin.

But now Rik Mayall is dead.

RIk Mayall swearing

Mayall was involved in a surprising amount of movies – it wasn’t just Drop Dead Fred. From the crucial role of ‘Man in Pub’ in An American Werewolf in London, to parts in Carry On Columbus and Churchill: The Hollywood Years, he popped up from time to time, usually in unexpected places.

But none of his film roles were as popular as Drop Dead Fred in 1991, which provided his biggest success and made him recognisable worldwide. The part of a young girl’s mischievous imaginary friend who comes back to torture her when she’s older was tailor-made for Mayall, giving him free reign to be offensive and ridiculous on a bigger stage than ever before.

The film was received…. not particularly warmly. Right now it sits with a nine per cent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, although the audience rating is closer to 80 per cent. That’s more like it.

It almost didn’t happen though. The script was originally offered to Tim Burton, who passed up the job, thankfully… he’d have only cast  elena Bonham Carter. While Robin Williams was first asked to play Drop Dead Fred, but The Hairiest Man in Hollywood instead chose to play the lead in Steven Spielberg’s Hook.

Mayall was sort of (but not really) in an even bigger film; one of the biggest of all time, in fact – Harry Potter. Mayall was asked to play Peeves the poltergeist, but while filming his scenes, the rest of the cast couldn’t keep a straight face. Everything he did was marred by one of the kids chuckling or one of the crew belly-laughing and he was cut from the final product.

If you’re so inclined, you can watch a very, very sweary Rik talk about the situation here:

But it was in his TV work that Rik Mayall really shone, and where he was able to combine his unique comedic acting with his writing talent. Mayall never got enough recognition for being a writer, but his was one of the pens responsible for The Comic Strip, Filthy Rich & Catflap, and The Young Ones.

Rik Mayall as Lord Flashheart in BlackadderI probably saw Rik for the first time in The Young Ones, but it was Blackadder that made me a fan for life. Just look at him in the second and fourth series of the show: surrounded by the absolute best in British comedy, he blows them all off the screen and strals the episodes he appears in, despite only appearing for a matter of minutes. There are more than 12 hours of Blackadder, and Rik Mayall appears in about 7 minutes of them. Nonetheless, mention the programme, and many people’s minds leap straight to Mayall’s performances as Flashheart, despite the character’s relatively tiny screen time.

And then there was his work in The New Statesman and the insane narrations he provided for children’s show Grim Tales and the time Jackanory did George’s Marvellous Medicine. Roald Dahl didn’t write George’s Marvellous Medicine with Rik Mayall’s voice in mind, but it certainly sounded like he did. Apparently when the episodes of Jackanory that featured Mayall were first broadcast in 1986, a number of viewers complained to the BBC that his performance was “both dangerous and offensive”. Perfect. And exactly what he was aiming for, I expect.

Even more “dangerous and offensive” was Bottom; the outrageously rude, childish, violent and hilarious spiritual sequel to The Young Ones. In each episode flatmates/friends/nemeses Richie (Mayall) and Eddie (Adrian Edmondson) invented new and obscene ways to hurt each other, and the programme spawned a series of live shows that broke records when they were released on video.

Rik Mayall and Ade Edmonson in Bottom

In 1999, Rik and Adrian wrote and starred in Guest House Paradiso an unofficial Bottom spinoff movie, which Ade also directed. As is generally the case with British movies based on sitcoms, it wasn’t terribly good, but the sheer work rate of the pair and the gleeful nihilism throughout gave it a certain charm, and one or two scenes were laugh-out-loud funny.

The last couple of days has seen hundreds of people post pictures of letters and autographs on the internet. Even they’re funny. And unspeakably cruel. For every fan that approached him, it seems he had a new good-natured insult that he was more than happy to scrawl across the book, DVD or photograph they thrust towards him.

Rik Mayall funny fan letter

Throughout it all, his reputation as a warm and decent man never waned. We almost lost him back in 1998 when he suffered serious head injuries following a quad bike accident and was in a coma for several days.

But now we have lost him for real. He was 56. What age is that?

Hit somebody with a frying pan. It’s what he would have wanted.

Rik Mayall

This column first appeared in the Kent Messenger series of newspapers.

On Philip Seymour Hoffman

February 2, 2014   -   0 comments   -  

Seconds before pressing ‘send’ on the original version of my newspaper column this week, the news about Philip Seymour Hoffman broke.

At the moment, we know very little, other than he was found in his home, and it’s suspected he died of a drug overdose. Over the coming days there are going to be thousands of newspaper stories, website articles, radio phone-ins and TV debates speculating about his life, death and mental health. I’m not going to take up your time with anything like that, but I’d be remiss to overlook the story completely.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Some celebrity deaths fall out of the sky and are so shocking, so jarring, that it throws your mind out of balance for a period of time. Refresh the news page for more info, log back onto Twitter, refresh the news page again…

But this isn’t the case with Philip Seymour Hoffman. With a history of drug abuse, it’s perhaps the absence of shock that makes this death all the more tragic. And even though Hoffman wasn’t a celebrity-wastrel, courting attention by turning up inebriated to premieres, it always felt like this was something that was more likely to happen than not.

The occasions where he publicly spoke about his problems were rare and conducted with a measure of seriousness, but even when speaking about ‘past’ problems, there was an air that he was on the same path. But it’s easy for people like me to project (and feel vindicated in having) those kind of ideas, when his body has just been found.

Hoffman was one of the few actors whose appearance alone would be enough to make me watch a film.

Even in awful comedies like Along Came Polly, he seemed to give real thought to the thinly-sketched characters he was given, but it was in heavy dramatic pieces that he really shone. Nonetheless, despite commanding the screen – and the viewer – with incredible performances in films like Love Liza, Capote, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love and Happiness, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that his best was yet to come.

Now we’ll never know.

45 posts have been published
With a total of 37 comments