Before the TV series Pompidou went out lots of people asked me ‘How do you write a script with no dialogue?’, ‘How do you write a visual comedy script?’, & ‘Please post a script up to the BBC Writers-room’ etc. (For those not in the business, the Writer’s Room is a BBC website encouraging aspiring writers).
Initially I was reluctant – and for obvious reasons I couldn’t do it during transmission – but now the series has aired I thought it might be of interest to writers, and indeed anyone interested in comedy and the TV industry, to see how a script without dialogue is written, also to see how a series can change in the process from script to screen, even from the script that secured the series commission in the first place. The draft I’m posting (CLICK ON PDF LINK ABOVE) was an early draft totally written by me so I’ve given myself permission to post it. (Later scripts obviously had the credit ‘Created & Written by Matt Lucas, Julian Dutton & Ashley Blaker).
When people asked me ‘how do you write a script without dialogue?’ I was always a bit surprised. I would reply – well, you just write all the action you want to see on-screen, down to the minutest movement of a hand, the precise timing of a cut to an object etc. You have the idea of the joke or the routine, you visualise it, then set about describing it in the best way possible. Most action screenplays – for example Speed, or Gravity – undoubtedly consist of page after page after page of stage description. Well, a visual comedy is exactly the same, except with jokes.
The script I’m posting is the first script of the show that was written. Initially it was written just by me, as a spec script. Matt Lucas’ company took it on, then me, Matt and Ashley Blaker sat down to rewrite it before submitting it. When we submitted it to the BBC we agreed I’d written 70% of it, Matt 15%, and Ashley 15%.
As a result of reading it the BBC commissioned a series and we wrote five more scripts. At this stage it was still the same template as my original script – a cluster of character-narratives, day-in-the-life, with building routines, slapstick for young people, visual gags and experimental gags for more mature viewers. We wrote 6 scripts along these lines, involving Pompidou visiting different settings – a Dept. Store (script 1 – the one posted above); a Country House, a Hospital, a Fete, a Campsite etc. Significantly, the structure did have a narrative but not in the same way as a traditional normal verbal sitcom: because in a physical comedy a physical event/problem is plot: for example, when Mr. Bean is locked out his hotel room naked, not only is that an event, it is also plot. ie. gradually escalating jeopardy, just like a drama script except funny. Our Mcguffins (devices that drive plot) weren’t as crude as ‘getting a toe stuck in a bath,’ (no insult to Eric Sykes, who I love) but basically involved Pompidou finding himself in gradually complicating sticky visual situations of his own making.
So six scripts were written along these lines – sort of ‘day-in-the-life’ half hours, quite Tati-esque, with Pompidou having a main ‘plot’ and the other characters as garnish having their own little running gags. There were special effects, surreal gags, gags of perspective etc. It was basically an ‘outsider in the modern world’ comedy – quite abstract, a bit of Tati, a bit of Marty Feldman. Matt was going to play all the characters, like Alec Guinness played everyone in Kind Hearts and Coronets.
How the series ended up on-screen was very different. A few months before filming each script was altered and it became much more of a traditional sitcom: gags were shed in favour of story and the focus switched from visual comedy and gags to a central performance and the interplay between Pompidou and his butler Hove. Hove, who’d started off as a minor character in early drafts, became a major element. So instead of a ‘solitary eccentric facing the real outside world’ being the engine of the comedy the emphasis moved to character interplay. Additionally, the whole series was moved much more towards being a kids’ show. Which is fine – family comedy is extremely rare. Also all the supporting characters were cut. So the series that viewers ended up seeing was very different to the original scripts.
So here it is: it may be of interest to somebody – comedy archaeologists of the future, aspiring writers who might want to see how a visual gag is written or a running gag developed or a building routine constructed. Needless to say all the material is under copyright so cannot be nicked!