British and Proud

Simons notes

One of the great things about British and Proud is that it all happened so quickly. My manager Adam Goldworm had sent my last couple of films to Larry Fessenden who, along with Glenn McQuaid, were preparing Tales From Beyond The Pale. They pitched the idea to me briefly and said if I wanted to write a short story, they'd love to include me in the series. Never one to turn down work and being a creative type I thought it was a great idea - a bunch of horror writer/directors each penning a 30minute radio play for the internet and then releasing them one by one on a weekly basis.

As a writer, you store ideas in the back of your mind and some you never use and some you feel compelled to write straight away and some you store away for a more appropriate time. When I agreed to working on Tales From Beyond The Pale, I had no idea in mind and nothing stored away in the depths of my subconscious but luckily the remit was incredibly liberating - ie: do what you want as long as it's 30 minutes and has horrific overtones. One thing I remember Larry or Glenn telling me was the more exotic the location, the better and I guess this struck a chord. Obviously when you're doing a radio play, unlike film, you don't have to go to the actual location to make it work, you recreate the aural atmosphere in a studio which can be anywhere in the world.

I was wracking my brains for an idea but nothing was really forthcoming. During this period however, I went to two weddings in the English countryside and at one of them, no-one knew where the happy couple were spending their honeymoon and this got me thinking - the idea of someone marrying someone who they don't really know that well, who can't be traced, and returning to their family in the middle of nowhere. To me this potential scenario had disastrous  consequences written all over it and so that was the kernel of the idea that became British and Proud.

To me the obvious slightly unimaginative and old-fashioned scenario would be to make the family a cannibalistic one who would eat our protagonist so the main concern was really how to make the unruly demise of our protagonist a new and original one. Apart from how quick this all happened (relatively speaking), the other great thing was that we didn't have to compromise our ideas and make the horror ending a happy one; it could be as dark as I liked! So I guess having spent the last couple of years on Red White & Blue and Bitch, it was no real surprise that the psychosexual nature of these should rub off on British and Proud.

There's been a few listeners who are slightly concerned that the tale might be racist but I guess Zalika's father, Harold, is loosely based on Idi Armin and I was glad when the actors of African origin all said they thought the African characters were quite realistic! In the UK, the saying 'British and Proud' has nationalist, jingoistic and racist overtones and is often a saying adopted by the NF or BNP to describe their feelings and by corollary their attitude about immigration and non-caucasians living in this country. I loved the contradiction therefore that this village chief, Harold, was willing to go to any lengths to enable his children to also be British and proud. He has such a fixation with how fantastic Britain really is, but is also completely ignorant as to the racist overtones that that moniker carries.

I was traveling with Red White & Blue throughout the larger part of the year but August I was happy to have a complete month off which I spend in London not traveling! Lacking the mindset to write a new feature, this was an ideal time therefore to write British and Proud and, over a bunch of mornings and afternoons I wrote the first and as it turned out, only, draft. Fessenden and McQuaid were both pretty happy with it and although Bob Portal had one main comment about positioning, I tried some re-writing but in the end stuck with the original draft. At this point I thought that was my involvement over and I was happily looking forward to hearing someone else direct my material for a change. As it happened I was offered the chance to direct it and although I initially wanted to hear how someone else would interpret my work I thought fuck it, I've never directed a radio play so, for the experience, I should give it a go and it was at this time that I brought Bob (from RWB) on board as producer.

I thought it would take a couple of days but actually by the time we wrote some casting adverts, held some auditions, did a rehearsal and then recorded the thing and worked on the final sound mix, it probably took another 5 days or so. Although the rest of the Tales from Beyond The Pale series uses great actors like Ron Pearlman and Vincent D'Onofrio, we opted to use an unknown cast, mainly because we needed so many African actors of which there are few (if any) who are that well known in this country. Stand out for me was 22 year old Zack Momon who played the supposedly 50-60 year old with absolute glee and authority.

We went back to Vince and Steve who'd done such a great job of the sound mixing/editing on RWB and spent a day in Steve's guestroom in North London going through each scene, usually about 6 or 7 times; although it took the whole day, everything went pretty smoothly and I think was enjoyed by all!

Steve did some sound editing and handed over the audio to Vince who had spent a good couple of weeks working on the sound designs for each scene and then Bob and myself listened to the whole piece for the first time. And, like any story you see or hear for the first time, there was a lot of stuff we loved and some we wanted to change.

Ironically, the main thing we set out to do was to make the piece more cinematic. I never listened to radio plays when I was younger but apparently between each scene you fade down to silence before fading up again into the next scene. This is what Vince had done but I felt this made everything too artificial and slow so this was the stylisation to get chucked - everything therefore works on a cut as it would do with visual story-telling. With this in mind, we also tried to start each scene with a 'bigger' sound, almost like an establishing shot in films. So, for example, at the wedding reception, the scene initially started with some champagne pouring which was subtle to say the least. I added a jazz band for some background energy and made this the first thing we heard in the scene. Apart from adding a few noises here and there (baby crying in church, dog barking outside, bunch of people in hotel corridor etc) to flesh the piece out and make it more dynamic, the other main thing we did was add pauses between some of the actors and their dialogue. In the actual recording, we were in such a hurry that the finer 'nuances' of the script were sometimes missed and with film you can cut back and forth between images to make the drama of a situation more dramatic, here we, more often than not, extended silence in the conversations to indicate the characters were thinking about something. It's always the small details that make up the greater picture and of course editing a radio show for the digital age is no different!

It ended up being a long day but an enjoyable one and we sent the finished product off to Fessenden and McQuaid sometime at the beginning of September. It turned out that ours was the first show that had been completed and so their reaction was one of utter excitement and praise which is always good!

The show was played out sometime in mid-October 2010, the second of the Tales From Beyond The Pale.

It can be listened to here: