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Comedy writing and the Media – Ballard School Spring Lecture series #4

March 4, 2016

Ballard School Spring Lecture series number 4

Will Ing on ‘Comedy writing and the Media’

If at first you don’t succeed…

Speaking to another packed audience of Ballard, Arnewood, Priestlands and Highcliffe pupils, parents and staff, we were both entertained and informed about the world of comedy and television by Mr Will Ing.

Will Ing (yes, that is his name) has worked for many years as a writer, script editor and producer for radio and then television. He gave us an insight into the industry and his own personal journey to date. The key theme was ‘resilience’!

2016.3.3 Will Ing Black Dog TV

An informal photo of Will Ing at Ballard School’s PAC 3rd March 2016 (credit: Alastair Reid) 

Only 4 channels on TV

Will grew up at a time when there were only four channels on TV (some of us remember this well) and the world was not yet technicolour. At school he bored his friends with his ‘stand up’ comedy and then at university (Cambridge and ‘Footlights’) he mixed with like-minded souls before going into the noble art of teaching – the classroom being a key place for acting and comedy to maintain control and interest! And then came a persistent presence in London doing ‘stand up’ (thankless when you follow on from a good comedian) and sketch writing hoping to be noticed (for all the right reasons).

It is clearly essential in this industry to be ready for failure – again and again – and to look for the moment when by luck or good judgement (or both) you come to the attention of a producer. Will managed to do some sketches for Radio 4’s ‘Week Ending’ at £10 a time rising to £25 for a minute on ‘Have I got news for you’ – or £50 if you managed to squeeze a few seconds extra over a minute and past the ever-vigilant editor. His credits include sitcoms such as ‘Miranda’, panel shows and entertainment shows such as ‘Strictly come dancing’ (and, yes, Brucie’s jokes were scripted). He showed us a list of other TV and radio shows that we hadn’t heard of (and he didn’t recommend) but which were necessary parts of the comedy-writer’s journey. As Will said, ‘It’s not all glamour – some shows are really bad!’ Once again resilience and perseverance are clearly the key to success. To illustrate this point, he told us that of 100 jokes he might write for something like ‘Have I got news for you’, only about 12 would get through. Similarly, when writing a script for a sitcom or panel show, a writer must be prepared to write, re-write, edit, make notes, write again (etc.) and keep trying to impress a producer somewhere, somehow.

It was fascinating to hear about his latest panel show just featured on BBC2 and re-appearing later in the year. This began life 6 years ago as ‘World of…’ as a script which went to an office pilot (and a desperate attempt to impress the Controller of BBC1 who liked it and was then moved on), to a studio pilot and another pilot before returning to an office pilot (with a BBC4 producer who loved it but couldn’t afford it) before eventually being snapped up by BBC2 when it looked like Channel 4 was going to have it. Over the six years the main ‘celebrity’ changed from Miranda to Sue Perkins and the show’s name from ‘World of…’ to ‘And you are…?’ to ‘Name dropping’ and now ‘Insert name here’. Not only was persistence (and a forced smile) necessary but also great politeness (you never know who you may need to ask for a ‘break’ in the future) and also immense stamina.

Career advice from Will Ing

Finally, Will stressed that there are lots of roles in TV from the well-known director and producer through technicians, accountants and lawyers all the way down to the essential ‘runner / researcher’ – the ‘must start’ position. In applying for posts (tips which apply universally) Will encouraged his young audience to apply carefully (don’t use ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ in a letter – research the actual names), to ‘put stuff on’, to be prepared to take the lowest position and work up through to ‘don’t give up – rejection is part of the process’. Moreover, it’s crucial to research a potential employer’s company well so you know exactly what they’ve done in the past and how you might enhance it.

A wonderful evening of insightful entertainment and career-wisdom. Look out for Will Ing’s own company production – ‘Black Dog Television’ – and drop him a line!

Alastair Reid (Headmaster – another job requiring acting, some script writing and a sense of humour! Persistence, resilience and stamina also help…)

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