In my last post I wrote about lessons I'd learned about sketch writing from my work as one of a team of writers on the BBC Radio sketch show Jesting About 2. I thought it might be interesting to show an example of one of my sketches in its first draft form, then revised after a read-through with the group and discussion with the producer. Click the Show/hide button to reveal the first draft.
SO YOU WANT A PAYRISE? (FIRST DRAFT)
F/X: INT. DOOR OPENS
JENKINS: Er, you wanted to see me, boss.
BATTS: Ah, Jenkins, yes, come in. You know Miss Proops from Personnel.
BATTS: Don’t stand on ceremony, Jenkins. Perch nervously on the edge of this chair. I understand from Miss Proops that you’ve requested a pay rise.
JENKINS: Yes, sir. Well I’ve been here nearly three years now and I’ve never had…
BATTS: Now as you may know I’m a chap who likes to deal in facts, Jenkins. How many days are there in a year?
JENKINS: Mmm, 365. (BRIGHTLY) 366 in a Leap Year.
BATTS: Quite. And how many hours in a day?
BATTS: Of which you work…?
JENKINS: Well, nine to five. Eight hours, boss.
BATTS: Which is precisely one third of a day, Jenkins. So over the year… You do the sums, Miss Proops, what’s one third of 366 days?
PROOPS: That would be 122 days, Mr Batts.
BATTS: Very good, Miss Proops. Very, very good. Now, Jenkins, do you work weekends?
JENKINS: Er, no, sir. I’m staff side, you see. We don’t…
BATTS: So, no Saturdays, no Sundays. Let’s see, 52 weeks in the year. By my reckoning that’s 104 days to take off your...
BATTS: Which leaves….
BATTS: Very good. Now Miss Proops, what annual holiday entitlement do we favour our Mr Jenkins with at the moment?
PROOPS: 14 days a year.
JENKINS: That’s another thing I was going to ask …
BATTS: Don’t distract while I’m trying to subtract, Jenkins. So, 18 minus 14 leaves ….
BATTS: (WITHERING) Yes, Proops. I think your calculator was surplus to requirements in that instance.
PROOPS: (COWED) Sorry, Mr Batts.
BATTS: Four days. But of course this office is closed Christmas Day...
PROOPS: (RESURGENT) And New Years Day!
BATTS: Which leaves two days. Do you work Good Friday, Mr Jenkins?
JENKINS: Er, no, sir.
BATTS: Easter Monday?
JENKINS: (DEFEATED) No.
BATTS: Well, Jenkins. I have to say your pay claim doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. In the circumstances I think we’ve been more than generous. According to my calculations you haven’t worked for us one single day.
JENKINS: Can I go now, Mr Batts? To tell you the truth I’m feeling a bit sick.
BATTS: Well we can’t have you working if you’re ill, Jenkins. I insist you take the rest of the afternoon off.
JENKINS: Thank you, boss. You’re very kind.
BATTS: Not at all. It’s only three hours. Miss Proops, be sure to dock it from his salary at the end of the month.
The discussion after the read through raised a couple of main issues:
1. The boss (called BATTS in the first version) was too old-school. Ben, the producer, invited me to rethink him as a modern management type, just as ruthless underneath as the first, but with a veneer of apparent informality and concern for his employees. I called him simply BOSS in the revised version.
2. Miss Proops was something of a secretarial stereotype. Ben questioned whether she was really needed. Why use three characters in a sketch if two can do the job equally well? So I dropped Miss Proops in the revised version. JENKINS became simply FRANK.
Try the second version by clicking the next Show/hide button. Is there an improvement, do you think?
SO YOU WANT A PAYRISE? (REVISED)
FX OFFICE ATMOS
FRANK You busy, boss?
BOSS Frank, come in, you know my door’s always open. Don’t stand on ceremony – perch nervously on the edge of the chair. This is about your pay-rise request, yes?
FRANK Well, I’ve been here nearly three years now, and I’ve never had...
BOSS Three years. Time flies, eh? How many days in a year, Frank?
FRANK Eh? Oh, er... 365. (EAGER BEAVER) 366 in a leap year.
BOSS Good. Very, very good. That’s what I like about you, Frank, you’re quick. And how many hours in a day?
FRANK (ENCOURAGED BY PRAISE) That’s easy. 24.
BOSS Of which you work?
FRANK Oh, er, nine to five. (BRIGHTLY) That’s eight hours, boss.
BOSS Which is precisely one third of a day. So, over the year. Come on, Rain Man, what’s one third of 366 days?
FRANK Mmm, that would be 122 days, boss.
BOSS I said you were quick. Remind me, Frank, do you work weekends at all?
FRANK No, no. I’m staff side. We don’t...
BOSS So, no Saturdays, no Sundays. Let’s see. 52 weeks in the year... By my reckoning that’s 104 days, which we take off your...?
BOSS Which leaves...?
FRANK (BEMUSED) Oh, er, 18.
BOSS Very good. Now, Frank, holidays!
FRANK (INTERESTED) Yes, that’s another thing I was going to ask about...
BOSS Of course, Frank, no subject barred. So what’s your entitlement at the moment?
FRANK Just 14 days, boss. I think you’ll agree...
BOSS Don’t interrupt while I’m doing the sums. 18 minus 14, that’s...
FRANK (HELPFUL) Four.
BOSS Just got there before you, Frank. Wow, you young guys keep me on my mettle. That’s what I love about this business. Now, where had we got to?
FRANK Er... four?
BOSS Oh, yes, four days. But of course the office is closed Christmas Day.
FRANK And New Year’s Day.
BOSS Which leaves two days. Do you work Good Friday, Frank?
FRANK (BELATEDLY REALISING WHERE THIS IS GOING) Ermmm, no. (BEAT) No.
BOSS Easter Monday?
FRANK (DEFEATED) No, boss.
BOSS Well, Frank. You know me, always ready to be persuaded by the facts. And in this case I have to say your pay claim doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. In the circumstances I think we’ve been more than generous. According to the figures you and I have just kicked around you haven’t worked for this firm one single day. (BEAT) Are you OK, Frank? You’ve suddenly turned a little pale.
FRANK I do feel a bit sick all of a sudden.
BOSS (SYMPATHETIC) Ah Frank, mate, we can’t have you working if you’re not well. Please, with my blessing, take the rest of the day off.
FRANK (WEAKLY) Thank you, boss. That’s very kind of you.
BOSS Not at all – you know my mantra; this company’s greatest asset is its workforce, and it has to be looked after. What time is it now? 2 o’ clock. You get along home to bed, I’ll let Accounts know they’ll need to dock three hours off your salary this month.
A few more cuts and changes were made to the sketch at the time of the recording, but as they were done 'on the hoof' I don't have those amends in script form. The show will be broadcast on Good Friday and again on Easter Monday. I'll add the Listen Again link here when it's available so you can see how this and the other sketches sounded on the air.