The Custard Chats to Paul Smith: Writer of BBC1 drama serial One Night.

by | Mar 29, 2012 | All, Interviews

If you follow me on Twitter or read the site with as much enthusiasm as me then you’ll be well aware of my love of new BBC1 drama serial One Night. The series has received rave reviews from critics and viewers alike but has been given a poor time slot for something of such caliber. Today I was lucky enough to chat to the series writer Paul Smith and learn more about the series and what he get the real reason behind the BBC’s decision to show the series in such a hidden away part of the schedules.

Where did the idea for One Night come from?

I wanted to see if I could make four single dramas work as a serial. I wanted to write four episodes of something but each episode felt completely different and a different story. Each character has their own crises and its a very different crises to any other characters involved. I think what I wanted to say is that we’ve all got very different things going on in our lives and very different agendas in our day and I wanted to write about people’s lives and then have this linking element to tie it all together. This also allowed me to view the characters in different ways. In episode 1 you view someone one way and by the time it gets to their episode you should get a different take on them. Its really a drama about our perceptions of people, how they see us and how they see them and that really interested me.

As they are four very different stories which posted the biggest challenge for you as a writer?

Well you throw bits of yourself into every character and I found it quite liberating to have four characters taking completely different paths.  I’ve looked at all the reviews and previews and everything and no one has picked up on the fact that in episode 1: Ted that whole episode is an illusion for Ted.  At the beginning he think he’s lost a deal but he hasn’t and if he’d like the client speak he would’ve had a completely different day.  So he kicks off this web of events under completely the wrong impression.

Alongside all the positive reviews the series has had the main comment the series has received is its bizarre late night scheduling. Whats your interpretation  of why the BBC decided to show it so late? 

Its a difficult one this.  The message came back that because of the stand alone nature of the episodes they were worried that it might not build an audience in quite the same way as perhaps as a serial would do so that was their main worry.  Obviously I would have loved it to have been on at nine but people thought a long time about it and that’s where we ended up. What I am incredibly pleased about is the fact that it was “stripped”. Always wanted it shown on consecutive nights so that was great and at the end of the day I’m hugely glad they commissioned it because I’ve not seen a lot like it.

What do you think of the standard of British Drama today?

There are things I’ve enjoyed hugely on both the BBC and ITV. ITV have really upped their game over the past two or three years. There’s a lot of interesting drama being commissioned.  I would like to see some more opportunities for some more single plays to allow some different voices to come through. I miss the Play for Today’s and things like that.

One Night has been compared to The Street this week is that a comparison you’re happy with?

Blimey yes! Totally flattered by that! 

Have you been happy with the way the series has been shot and produced?

I must say TV directors hardly ever get a mention. Our director David Evans has done a fantastic job on this. As well as a great cast there are some great visuals he’s put in. Its fantastic.

The final episode features a very young cast. You found some incredible young talent. Were you worried about whether they could handle the material?

Yes! I woke up sweats in the middle of the night before we started shooting wondering if I’d given them too much but Billy Matthews (as Alfie) is absolutely fantastic. It was so natural. I was absolutely delighted. I was trying to do one or two things I felt I hadn’t seen before in prime time drama and that was to have an episode for a whole hour that was led entirely by kids and I was so delighted by their performances. 

So once you’ve written it and had it commissioned how involved are you on set?

Well in an authored piece my main job then is find people who you get on with and agree creatively with. Everyone was completely in agreement with how we wanted it to look and feel and I was down on set and we’d talk about how this should be shot or how to make a particular scene better.   

One of my favourite scenes of the whole series is Jessica Hynes scene where she does proper stand up comedy. It was a cringe worthy and brilliant scene. How did you find writing the routine and where the idea that Carol should use stand up comedy come from?

Well I’d decided that quite early on and I found it a really interesting notion that she would bare all to a room full of strangers and it just developed from there and it worked as a great explanatory tool to discover more about her family. I worked with Jessica on the routine and we decided on a voice for it. But it helped me tell Carol’s story too so I found it useful as it helped me kill two birds with one stone really. 

It was a very brave to hold an audience on one long eleven minute scene.

Yes it was a massive risk but I was very pleased again with the way David shot it. When he went in tight and she was explaining her life you just knew it was getting personal and we’re moving into dodgy territory here.

Looking at your past work its been mainly in comedy what drew you to writing a more serious piece of drama?

Yes I started out on Smith and Jones and Spitting Image, did some sitcoms and children’s for a while and then I thought right I want to do some adult and here I am really. Not a lot of comedy writers tend to move over. Obviously  there’s Steven Moffat, David Renwick and Richard Curtis but there aren’t a lot of comedy writers who move over to drama.  I wanted to put a lot of comedy in this series and I don’t think there’s enough comedy in drama generally. In some ways its much harder to write a classic sitcom.

What advice would you offer to aspiring writers is it harder now to break into the industry?

I don’t think its harder no. There are fantastic opportunities in radio. Radio 4 produces a lot of great drama. In general everyone wants to find new writers. There’s perhaps this perception that no one wants you to break through but actually script editors and producers can’t wait to discover new writers. I think if someone wants to start out they’ve got to write something they feel really strongly about and if they real put their heart and soul into it and send it in, it may not get made but they’ll get known and it might lead to other work on existing series or they might get a commission for a single play you just never know.  

Have you had people contacting you this week asking is Ted based on me is Carol based on me?

Luckily my internet connection has been quite sporadic this week so I’ve not been able to see much of that if it has come in.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently doing a single drama for the BBC. Its called 388 days and its a true story. Its based on the brother of Rachel Chandler who got kidnapped by Somali Pirates. And its her brothers story Stephen who lives in the UK who was landed with huge problem of having to raise the money for her release and being suddenly thrust into a media spotlight. Its a really interesting. 

One Night concludes Friday 30th March at 10.35pm on BBC1

You can read my original review of the series HERE

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Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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