Comedy Writer – David Nobbs: A Lifetime in Comedy

Report by Lisa Nightingale

‘Write silly!’ is David Nobbs’ truth burrowed deep in the underbelly of his work. It is truth that transcends many comedies – Dad’s Army was based in the truth of the war, Reggie Perrin’s life was so boringly ordinary that he could not cope with it. ‘Your writing can have its own truth. As long as it clings to that truth, it will go a long way.’ Recognise the boundaries surrounding your chosen subject and stick within those confines.

May 15 Barbara and David Nobbs_0010David began his writing career at age 9 with only W.E Johns’ Biggles for inspiration. After National Service and Cambridge University, with Peter Cook, he had caught the writing bug and wrote for magazines, before moving into journalism where he wrote small articles on local issues. A writer’s first printed professional word never fails to thrill, David’s was a typo.

The world of journalism was just not doing it for him and in his evenings, he wrote his first novel. He almost preens with pride at the memory of its doing fairly well. So he relocated to London and wrote. And wrote and wrote. But nothing sold.

So, it was back to journalism.

‘Persistence can be hard work.’ he admits. It paid off though and a sketch submitted to ‘That Was the Week That Was’ was accepted.

But, David could not stop writing novels, embellishing an unassuming body with a dash of drama e.g. The Cucumber Marketing Board with Pegasus Baines, a Nutritional Scientist, Heston Blumenthal like Chef (The Cucumber Man, 1994). It is a disappointment to David that drama has been lost from satire.

‘Television is made for dialogue.’ he says. Snippets of overheard conversation on a train, in a queue, at a ‘Do’ all make for material. Much of today’s comedy has replaced irony with anger and it is a shame that so many characters are not likeable.

‘The basic principles of Comedy remain the same. It is the details that change.’ And a move to the country provided David with his hit ‘A Bit of a Do.’ People watching at a wealth of village celebrations, from the Dentists’ Dinner Dance, to the Angling Society Awards. He used his own experiences combined with the drama created by the ongoing whisperings of the recurring guest list.

As for new writers, David recognises the difficulties of facing a fast moving society that we now live in. Today’s news can be forgotten by next week. And that our current obsession with Political Correctness sweeps the stereotypes that can yield so many laughs under the carpet. Persist! Exploit the Radio Times and the TV Times and current comedy shows credits! The Agent/Producer issue is much of a ‘chicken and egg’ discussion, so keep sending your sketches and ideas to either. Or both. But funny and silly still rise to the top.

Special Guest,  Cllr Eileen Berry, the Mayor of Winchester

May 15 Mayor Eileen Berry_0011Madam Mayor Eileen Berry is a straight talking woman. It was no real surprise when she confessed to having been a rebellious writer when growing up. ‘Rebel or not – be true to yourself’ she says. ‘My writing life sustained me.’ And it was in writing that she accessed a plethora of emotions. As a little girl, she could not spell and so read a lot and read her own work to others.

‘Never apologise for your work.’ Criticise and criticism should be kept to the writers’ work and always remain constructive. In this sense, others can be listened to and learned from.

Over her past year as Mayor, Eileen has accumulated riches beyond her expectations. She has always liked people and has revelled in her Mayor’s capacity to attend groups like the Hampshire Writers’ society and to meet the do-gooders that are never seen. She has not met anyone who has not inspired her.

Madam Mayor is a lifelong poet. She was a member of the Winchester Writers’ circle and Winchester Poets.

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