This weeks Tribute podcast interview is a belter. Discussing football, the working classes, writing about true life events and more, and all focused on the Tribute episode MILESTONE. You really need to give it a listen, then read these enlightening answers from the writer Tony Clare.
1. They always say you should write what scares you, and I think taking on a real life event of such magnitude must have been pretty scary. Did you have any reservations/fears when starting this Tribute?
When I wrote the original version I had no reservations whatsoever. It was before the Inquests had been announced and at the time I think awareness of the injustice still needed promoting. It had always been my intention to use the script to raise awareness if it got picked up and developed. I had planned to approach the Hillsborough Campaign to seek permission of course. However it never got picked up and so apart from reading it at a local literary festival, I just shelved it. When the Tribute Series call went out, I realised I could adapt the original. It was then that I did have some reservations as I had to ask myself if my intentions for the script were ok. I spoke to some writer friends and they reassured me that I should definitely put the script out there. I’m pleased I did as I hope it exists to remind people of how injustice can be challenged even when the machinery and power you’re facing looks impossible to defeat.
2. You make the point about this being about class very early on with the line about Wimbledon. How much does being working class define your character? Should it?
It defines him absolutely and yes I think it should. Of course not everyone affected by Hillsborough is Working Class and not everyone watching football at that time is/was. However, I think it’s important to remember that at that time there was a wholesale assault on the Working Class socially, politically, and culturally. There was a tireless and dogged attempt to demolish it. The apparatus that allowed the Working Class to organise was being dismantled through brutal legislation; the conditions which we were expected to tolerate in the simple act of going to see our national game were deplorable. It was like being treated like cattle. Worse. So I do believe that the 96 were killed for being Working Class (or participating in a predominantly - then - Working Class pursuit). I know that might sound radical but when I ask myself would the same conditions have arisen at Wimbledon preceding, during, and following a disaster of that type there, then the answer is no on all three counts.
3. I'm always disappointed by the representations of working class in British TV. They always seem cartoonish and offensive to me or stick to horrible stereotypes. Why do you think this is? Is it a problem of a lack of working class writers, or directors, or commissioners? OR all three?
It’s a great question and something I feel very strongly about. There are of course lots of great Working Class writers, but they enjoy nothing even close to fair or equal representation. The absolute genius ones make it through because it would be almost impossible for them not to. For example, Jimmy McGovern, Caroline Ahearne, John Fay etc. But these then exist as a convenient example for the commissioners etc to point out and say “Look there’s lots of opportunities for Working Class writers”; they become the exception that prove the Middle Class rule. As for the representation of Working Class people, well where do you begin? The demonisation of the Working Class has surely been executed most successfully through the medium of TV than any other form. They are such grotesque depictions that one can’t help feeling there’s something more sinister going on in the continual commissioning of these pieces. I remember the first time I was invited to MediaCity for a writing event. The first thing that I was greeted with was a floor to ceiling picture of Vicky Pollard, smack bang in the centre of reception. I know people cry killjoy when you call these things out, but I ask, does comedy sink lower than demonising and vilifying a teenage working class girl? Would the depiction of any other marginalised group hung so proudly in reception be tolerated? Another thing I’ve come across a lot lately at writing events etc. is people in the industry trotting out the line “Oh yeah, and another thing don’t be a twat, right; we’ve got to work with you, yeah?” This roughly translates as “adopt our middle class mores or fuck off”. It’s the exact opposite of how organisations successfully embed diversity into their culture. The treatment of the Working Class in drama and the representation of writers in the industry is something I think about every day and there are moments it literally brings me to tears. But conversely, it’s the exact same thing - the exact same thing - that makes me write.
4. Answering questions on my episode last week made me remember how many childhood memories are in my Tribute, is this the same as yours regarding the feeling of going to your first match?
Yes! I hadn’t realised that until you asked me that question. I was taken to my first match by my oldest brother’s girlfriend (I’m the youngest of 6). “Even the route [she took] was designed for maximum effect”. She even asked if I wanted to get there by train or on the ferry!! I will never forget the sounds and smells and sights as I approached Goodison. As my own children get closer to making their first trip to a match, I’m very conscious of making it as good as it can possibly be. One other thing that I think might have influenced the script is that I always seem to remember the preparations and the journeys more than the games themselves - the big games that is. I can remember missing my coach home from Wembley; bumping into Margi Clarke on a train back home from a cup final. But I can’t remember which cup finals/Charity Shields they were!!
5. Hearing You'll Never Walk Alone is a hugely emotional ending, was that scripted to be under the dialogue in that way?
Yes, that’s exactly how it was scripted. I wrote a short script a few years back (for one of Writersroom’s Rapid Response call outs on the theme of phone hacking following the revelations that Milly Dowler’s phone was hacked) which never got anywhere but I had always imagined it ending in the same way, but back then I didn’t dare put it in the script! It was about a lad in a desperate situation who sells his famous sister’s mobile number to the S*n. Here’s an extract from the final scene:
The pair stand, look at the MEMORIAL and slowly walk away.
Mark offers Billy a Chip. Billy grabs the entire cone, Mark snatches it back.
CLOSE ON: THE NAMES OF THE 96 ON THE MEMORIAL. OLD NEWSPAPERS swirl and eddy around the Memorial until one is whipped up and attaches itself to it. Its headline reads “MILLY’S PHONE HACKED”. The wind flicks us through its lurid pages. One by one images of the current scandal emerge from them. First MILLY, then the SOHAM victims, then the 9:11 victims and they join the names on the Memorial.
Then from history ... MARILYN MONROE, KAREN CARPENTER, PRINCESS OF WALES.
A more severe GUST catches the PAPER and the Memorial shakes it off. Its pages separate and blow down the road before becoming stuck fast in the GUTTER.
6. Was there originally a longer version of this? It's such a tight Tribute, clocking in at 6 minutes, was that intentional to keep it short or did it just naturally come to that length?
No, in fact it was a little shorter. I felt as though I wanted to write it at what ever seemed the natural length for it to be. That said though, all my scripts tend to be on the short side. My last feature script was 93 pages.
7. What other projects are you working on and how do they compare with Milestone?
I’m working on three other projects at the moment. 45 is a radio drama. It’s about a travelling record salesman, MARK DRUMMOND, whose world is falling apart but hopes the resurgence in vinyl will revive him. His world consists of little more than one-sided conversations he has with the DAB radio in his Peugeot Estate and conversations he strikes up with the staff at service stations. It started out as entirely quirky but as I began to invest and believe more in the character I have attempted to introduce a degree of pathos. It was easy to find humour in what his life has become, but the more I wrote, the more I realised that the reference points and realities we construct for ourselves at difficult times are as real and meaningful than those existing in the worlds of those whose lives are more together and sophisticated. For MARK, his conversations with the radio and his obsessions with traffic reports are as meaningful as his contemporaries trips to the theatre and art galleries. I don’t want to speak above the level of my own experience, but it strikes me that there’s a point in writing when the care and belief you have in the characters reaches a level; a sort of barometer that tells us when the character is believable and the writing is at some level of seriousness! I was inspired by the Tribute Podcasts Series to write this. I have always found writing a 45-minute radio play incredibly difficult, but after I wrote the Tribute, I changed my approach to how I would write a radio play.
The Full Box Set is a single drama set entirely in Liverpool’s Georgian Quarter about a man going through a rough time who decides to set himself up as Band Promoter when he overhears a singer/songwriter’s conversation in a cafe. He’s also become obsessed with Nordic Noir and this provides a quirky sub plot. He lives in a Volvo estate, dresses more for a snowy Stockholm than a windy Liverpool and seeks out Smorgasbord for lunch. It’ll probably get nowhere but it’s been great fun writing it.
Rash is a single drama about a lad who gets stranded in Dolgellau - a mid-Wales market town - when he misses his coach following a music festival. When he is unable to find work locally to fund his trip home, he decides to pan for Welsh Gold in the hills surrounding the town. When he eventually finds enough tiny specs of gold to travel home, he realises that perhaps everything he has been searching for in life is right where he has been left.
8 . Have you had a chance to listen to the other Tribute episodes? If so which ones have stuck out for you?
I’ve listened to them all and love them all. It was delightful to see the diversity of the approaches to the call out. I think there’s something to take from each and every one. The honesty and integrity of all the pieces reflected the spirit of the project itself, I felt. I particularly enjoyed MARCIE LANE BY LIZ TAYLOR. I liked the theme, the pace, and the climax. Very clever, poignant and so moving. Similarly, BEN WEINER’S A GREAT MAN was so clever with wonderful twists and reversals and not a word wasted. Brilliant. I thought DAVID HENDON’S THE NAME ON THE BENCH was very intelligently written and was intriguing and thoughtful. He crammed in so much character to the piece. There has to be something for me to learn from that. PHILIP SHELLEY’S AN ORDERED LIFE was a masterclass and that too packed in so much character and was so three-dimensionally visual. I also loved how effectively and skillfully WILL MOUNT’S AN IRRESISTIBLE FORCE, DANIEL BRIERLEY’S GRANDPA, and LOUISE VALE’S REX maintained tone and intrigue so consistently throughout. I could go on with this and mention every single one because I genuinely loved them all. In all the pieces, the skill in which tone and style was established (by both writer and actor) was mind blowing for me, especially considering the brevity. In my own piece, lines I had considered to be almost impossible to interpret in the way I heard them in my head, were delivered by the brilliant Neil Caple the exact way I heard them in the very first take, without any direction or explanation from me. And in other places, he breathed more life into the lines and illuminated aspects of character I hadn’t seen. They’re pieces I will return to again and again, I think. It’s probably a writer thing but like one of your other interviewees said, I couldn’t believe mine was featured alongside such excellent work.
9. It's exactly a year ago today that the 96 got truth and justice. What do you think has changed since the verdict, and what still needs to happen?
Yes, it’s exactly a year to the day and the sun shines just as brightly here as it did on that day too. I took a break from answering these questions and went for a run and thought this question through. I remembered listening to Ben Schofield’s brilliant reporting live from the Inquests; tears streaming down my cheeks and alone to nobody I quietly said “yes”. On that day I went for a walk and I did have the palpable feeling of feeling safer in the world. The strength of that feeling was such that I felt I had to include it in the Tribute script. I think a Milestone has been reached for both the families and society. However, I think it’s important that prosecutions follow as that will not only help ensure this type of disaster never happens again, but will remind the Establishment that impunity should not be part of their privilege. I also think about others fighting for Justice - Orgreave and the Shrewsbury 24 for example. Hopefully they will be inspired by the verdicts. Hopefully that sunny day will come soon for them too.