Few writers, I suspect, would disagree with the statement by the late David Lean, director of many of the outstanding British films of the 90s (Dr.Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia etc) that the hardest job in television/film production is that of the writer. Very close to this, I believe, is the work of the designer.
I have worked with many designers; some were brilliant, others a disgrace to their profession.We were approaching the end of the 39 hour series SAM. Very early on in the series its growing international popularity was made clear to us following its reception in the UK.
In the two years prior to its coming demise, Sir Denis Forman and I had jointly agreed that 39 hours was its natural length and we did not wish to take it beyond this point.Throughout the production I had been almost totally glued to the typewriter. The pressure was considerable, and while the actors and others had been able to enjoy the fruits of success I was wearing out my fingers on the typewriter keys. It was this that persuaded me to accept an invitation to spend a week in Norway, with my family, at Norwegian television’s expense.
It was a spontaneous reaction. Thinking about it, in practical terms, I realised that a week in Norway would use a considerable period of time of that I would need to complete the series. I spoke to one of the senior designers, Colin Pocock, who would be scheduled as designer on the episode in question. I would normally have had to spend at least a week in Norway, searching for locations in which I could set the various backgrounds to the rough story I had in mind. This would take quite a large slice of the time I would need to write the last episode of the series, and I wanted to do this myself rather than contract another writer to round off what I considered to be my series.
I checked that Colin would be available. Working on studio sets would take at least a week of his time and probably more. In addition sets would have to be built, and facilities for building them in Norway confirmed and costed. I suggested that he took a camera to Norway and spent a week photographing locations for a story I had roughly sketched on a single sheet of A4. The locations would need to have a Norwegian flavour and would not require any detailed design work. I would write the script in whatever time I had available. We had already determined that the episode would be shot entirely on film. If the cast and ancillary trades, such as make-up, travelled by sea from Newcastle I could write some scenes to be shot in travelling time at sea with consequent additional savings.
I wrote the script to fit Colin’s photographs, and took my typewriter with me so that I could carry on writing the last episode, while still enjoying the warm reception we had at what might seem an odd location for a drama set in a Yorkshire mining village.