Week 25.  A quarter way to 100 ‘Life in Laytonias’

If I include the pre-cursor to ‘Life in Laytonia’, the 7 ‘Layton on Lockdown’ articles, commissioned by the Telegraph Online back in the March of this torrid Covid year, that makes 32.

Goodness me!  That’s quite a lot of scribbling.

This must surely be the moment to thank the person who was responsible for this weekly blog/column/rant/ stream of conscious musings, ending my self-imposed 12-year exile from writing.

No, not the perspicacious editor of the Telegraph Online who saw mileage in a lockdown diary written from the point of view of the vulnerable over-70’s – well over in my case – though I will return to the Telegraph in a moment.

The person, who more than anybody, dragged this disillusioned, jaundiced Writer-turned-Couch Potato from the bottom-worn settee to his dusty computer was none other than Boris Johnson.

It came as no surprise when our Winston Churchill manqué Prime Minister announced the first lockdown; it had been anticipated for days.  

The formal Boris announcement eventually hit the airwaves at 8.30pm on Monday the 23rd of March.

By 9.15, Moya and I were arguing what we should watch on television!! 

Moya, exercising her Chief Executive of Laytonia vote, opted for MasterChef – “The Last of the Heats”. 

I have an antipathy to watching Gregg and John ever since I was cruelly and unceremoniously kicked off Celebrity MasterChef some years ago.

George: Moya, I’m just popping upstairs, I’ve had an idea.

I went to my study, blew the dust of my computer and plugged it in.

Not literally of course.  I started typing out my idea.  The first thing I’d written in years.  The working title was:

George Layton’s Lock Down Log

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Whilst there were reasons for myself-imposed exile from writing, too complex to go into detail, it is worth saying a few things about the writing process.

Writing is solitary but at the same time, collaborative.

With books, you have an editor.  When you have a good editor, an empathetic editor, an editor who is on your wavelength, as I have been fortunate enough to experience, the writing process is a joy.

When you have an editor who is not on your wavelength, which I have also experienced, it can be a nightmare.

Writing for television, film and the theatre is a different animal.  Especially when it comes to comedy.

There are so many people involved in the process.  The producer, the director, the actors, the tea-lady, Uncle Tom Cobley and all.  

Comedy is subjective.  You cannot please everybody.  You cannot write to committee.  You choose your battles.  You often have to bite your tongue. 

It is more exhausting than actually writing the script in the first place.  But it goes with the territory.

I have always welcomed suggestions that improved any script of mine, often claiming them as my own when the programme was transmitted.

In the final analysis, however, it was my name on the script.  It was my sense of humour.   And I always felt that I had to be the final arbiter.

Who am I kidding?  There was always compromise. 

I would frequently come home from a script meeting and Moya would ask me how it went.

‘I haven’t a clue what they were talking about’ was a stock reply.

Having said I would not detail here the reasons for myself-imposed exile from writing, it may be worth telling this little story.

About 12 years ago, I was in a meeting with a young script editor, whom I actually liked, but I did wonder how he had got off school for the afternoon. 

My way of saying I was getting long in the tooth.

The script editor had been assigned to a comedy series that I was writing.  He was trawling through the first 2 scripts, telling me what didn’t work, what wasn’t funny, what he’d like more of, what he’d like less of, etc….

Script Editor:…and this scene.  That can go.  It has nothing to do with the plot.

I watched his rapier-like red pencil slash diagonally across several pages of my script.

Big sigh…it was a very funny scene that I had spent hours crafting and subliminally, it had everything to do with the plot.

Yes, you could cut it.  The viewer would never know what they had missed.

But I would.

More important, I felt strongly that without the scene, the episode would be diminished.

There were countless occasions when either at a recording or watching an episode being transmitted, Moya (who was always my best script editor) would say ‘well, that didn’t work’ or ‘that wasn’t funny’

I would dig out the original and with undisguised cockiness, compare what I had written with what had ended up on the screen.

Script Editor: (cont.) Same goes for this, George.  And this.  We don’t need it…

More dismissive, diagonal red blood-like slashes across my white pages.

Here we would go again:  the ritual negotiation dance.   The tentative Tango.   The pragmatic Passodoble.   The persuasive Polka.   The Fandango of frustration.

Normally, having danced politely around our differing views, I would have then gone into battle, arguing the point, fighting my corner.

But I was battle-weary. 

I sat there and I came to a decision.  A Nano-second morphed into an Oh-no second. 

‘Oh no, I’ve had enough’!

That was it.  When I got home I unplugged my computer, so to speak.

There was more to it than that, of course.  The script meeting had merely been the catalyst, following years of tongue-biting frustration and compromise.

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Back to 23rd March 2020: 

George Layton’s Lock Down Log

So finally, at 8.30pm on Monday night, the Boris edict came.  Formal lock down.  By 9.15 my wife and I were arguing what we should watch on television. 

Doesn’t bode well…

I fleshed out my burgeoning idea.  I developed it as a column with a mixture of gravitas and humour.  

Allowing for the cruel nature of Covid 19 and Coronavirus, the humour had to be sensitive.  It was an interesting exercise. 

God knows what I thought I was going to do with it.  It was a long shot as to whether my lock down log would go further than a document on my Apple-Mac.  There were bound to be a slew of similar lock down articles.   It was a matter of finding a different angle.  

Whatever happened, I was – surprisingly – enjoying myself and if nothing else, it was a diversion from Gregg, John and MasterChef – “The Last of the Heats”.

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After approaching the few contacts I had, I was put in touch with a fairly substantial cheese at the Telegraph Online. I emailed him:

From: George Layton <* * * * * * >

Subject: article

Date: 26 March 2020 at 11:52:35 GMT

To: * * * * *    <* * * * * >@telegraph.co.uk>

Dear  * * * * *

The piece attached was written following the official lock down announcement on Monday night.

With a mixture of gravitas & sensitive humour, I think that there could be mileage in a regular column during this nightmare, written from the point of view of one of the ‘vulnerable ones’ (over 70 – well over as far as I’m concerned).  

I would be grateful if you could read it.  Written in real time, it is time-sensitive, ie it should be published in the next few days. 

The attached will doubtlessly need re-writing as it is getting past its sell-by date but hopefully it will give you the flavour.  

 If you like it, please contact me asap on yada, yada, yada…

Kind regards,

George Layton

Long story short, the aforementioned perspicacious editor commissioned one, then four, and ultimately seven ‘Layton on Lockdowns’ and if I say writing them kept me sane during those March/April/May days of Lock Down 1, I am not exaggerating.

I received a number of “Sorry, George, I’m not reading the Boris Bugle, even for you, mate” emails.  I consoled myself in the knowledge that I would have had a similar number of ‘I’m not reading that Lefty rag’ messages if The Guardian had commissioned me.

I had the odd ‘script editor’ type run-in.  For example, when an adjective that I had intentionally repeated, was edited out. 

I explained to the Fromage Grand at the Telegraph that it was the repeated use of the word ‘quirky’ that made that particular section amusing.

The magnanimous editor immediately put his hands up.

‘George, I’m so sorry, I didn’t see that.  That’s why you’re a writer and I’m a journalist’.

So gracious.

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Well, ‘Life in Laytonia’ 25 has turned out to be a bit of a rant.  A trip down memory lane. All a bit autobiographical.

STOP PRESS:  Spoiler alert. 

I have been asked many (many) times when am I going to write my autobiography?

I have got some big news

After months and months of painstaking work, I am delighted to announce that I have at last come up with a title!

Watch this space…