When I received the news I was being made redundant, I had to work very hard to suppress a very happy smile.
For months I’d been building up my freelance portfolio. Thinking about how I could earn enough to get started full time. And enjoying one spectacular piece of good fortune.
A couple of months earlier, leafing through a copy of Audio Visual News, I came across an ad from Kodak UK. They were looking for a freelance scriptwriter.
Bear in mind that this was 1982, when Kodak had a massive international presence – and had not, yet, entered their disastrous lawsuit with Polaroid. For me this would be a hugely prestigious addition to my CV – not to mention a wonderful opportunity to flex my creative muscles.
So I didn’t waste any time responding. And I sent them the best of my colourslide cassette scripts, along with the ‘cosmology’ script I’d written for that special occasion, and a couple more that I felt reflected my real creativity.
It wasn’t long before they called me in for interview. We had a very pleasant conversation, and at the end I said. ‘Well, thanks very much. I’m sure you have other people you want to talk to.’
‘No,’ they said, ‘we haven’t. You’re it. When can you start?’
As it turned out, I left Woodmansterne on a Friday and started my first real work for Kodak the following Monday. It involved interviewing the Master of the Queen’s Swans over a somewhat alcoholic lunch at the Bell and Dragon on the Thames. I presume I got the notes, though I’ll confess I don’t remember much about the rest of the day…
That interview was the first step in scripting a show we eventually called A Thames Calendar. It was a creative way to use a selection from literally thousands of pictures taken by a Kodak staff photographer along the Thames, in all seasons and featuring many of the annual events along the river.
I suggested we use a Thames Waterman as our narrator – someone who would be travelling the river all year, and familiar with all its many aspects. It gave single voice and a consistent focus to a very diverse narrative – and I was delighted when I learned that the part would be spoken by none other than Robert Hardy. I was even more delighted when I heard what he said after the first take. ‘That was lovely. May I read it again?’
The final show was a sophisticated, computer-controlled presentation using no fewer than nine projectors. There was something else very special about it, as well. As I discovered when I was invited to a preview at Kodak’s Ruislip HQ.
I sat down full of anticipation, and waiting for the inevitable hiss and crackle at the beginning of the soundtrack. Which didn’t happen. Instead – with incredible clarity – I heard the opening bars of Dire Straits’ Telegraph Road over a spectacular sunrise sequence – and, soon after, the opening words of my script. It was my very first experience of digital sound.
It was spectacular. It absolutely blew me away. And it also blew away the committee which gave the show a premier award.
Years later I was visiting the Photographic Museum in Bradford, and discovered that a video version of the show was running on their IMAX screen. But I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my freelance scripting career.
Because now I truly was an award-winning producer and scriptwriter. And much more work soon followed…