Our Next Meeting
Thursday 13 June
Writing Sitcoms for Radio - Harry Venning
Harry Venning is an award winning cartoonist, comedy writer and performer based in Brighton.
Harry’s cartoons have appeared in publications as diverse as Mathematics Today, The Radio Times, Music Teacher and The Stage.
For twenty one years he has provided The Guardian with the weekly strip cartoon Clare In The Community, based upon the misadventures of an empathy free social worker. In 2004 he developed Clare In The Community into a successful BBC Radio 4 sitcom starring Sally Philipps, which has recently been re-commissioned for a twelfth series. He is currently writing a five part comedy drama about an under-13 girls’ football team and their coach, for the Women’s Hour drama slot.
When not at a desk writing or drawing, Harry tours his cartoon workshop Release Your Inner Cartoonist around schools, theatres, arts centres and festivals.
He also works as a graphic visualizer, providing live cartoons to illustrate talks and speeches at conferences, festivals and team building events.
Review of the meeting
Ian introduced Harry Venning, (website www.harryvenninglive.com ), who gave a talk titled ‘No Laughing Matter. A short sharp guide to sitcom writing’.
Harry co-writes the R4 sitcom, Clare in the community, 75 episodes, 12 series. It’s neck and neck with Ed Reardon for longest running, won a Sony award. He also co-wrote Sneakipeeks, which ran for one series and was then canned. So the first part of his talk was what could be learned from successful series, and the second looked at lessons from a failed one.
Harry began as a cartoonist, and had brought calendars and cards as examples of his work. Clare in the Community sprang from a Guardian strip.
Harry talked about the type of characters, settings and plotlines that made successful sitcoms. He explained how to set the scene quickly, avoid too much boring exposition, and warned us that timeframes should be short. He taught us the sit-com rule – Nothing changes. No-one learns.
Find a writing partner. Harry says, ‘you can only tell if it is funny with a partner. He and his partner develop the plotline first. They get the structure first and then the dialogue. The structure/plot itself does not need to be funny, but it must be capable of illuminating the main character’s quirks. For a half hour show they will outline 13 or 14 scenes, with a precis of each.
He writes Clare and Hazel Tours with David Ramsden, and wrote Sneakipeaks with Neil Brand.
Harry analysed what was wrong with Sneakipeaks, and contrasted it with sitcoms that were successful. In summary – too many accents, too many characters, and some characters not charismatic enough, avoid too much swearing, it’ll only get cut.
Harry finished by telling us that his story of ‘Coach Karen’s Halftime Team Talks’ had just been broadcast as a serial at the end of Woman’s Hour broadcasts. And WSW members were invited to watch a recording of an episode of ‘Hazel Tours’.
Members can read a full account of Harry’s talk in the members’ section of the WSW website.