When you’re trying to get into a creative industry you would think that being a bit creative and trying to make yourself stand out is the thing to do. Unfortunately, just like when you are desperate to get a date with someone you really fancy, desperation can be off-putting. Animals do all sorts of show offy stuff – prancing about flashing their feathers, doing a dance, waggling their arses. The human equivalent would be wearing a tight t-shirt with my amazing guns almost bursting out of it while clubbing on Union Street1. Unfortunately the guns are more like those toy pistols with the BANG! flag and I had no tight t-shirts, just charity shop shirts and jackets. Sometimes it’s better to protect your modesty.
Sadly, in 1994, desperate times called for desperate and ill-thought out measures. I had tried writing the usual formal letters to production companies begging them for work experience to no avail. I had applied for jobs and kept getting rejected, unless working in HMV counts. What I needed to do was show my creativity. I loved comedy, so why not write to one of the biggest comedy production companies and wow them with how hilarious I am? A sure fire route to success.
I had enjoyed Jimmy Mulville’s work on Who Dares Wins, Chelmsford 123 and was a big fan of Drop the Dead Donkey and Have I Got News For You. My plan was to write the funniest covering letter to Jimmy at Hat Trick Productions and he would find enclosed the most brilliantly comic made up CV possible. He would read it, literally wet himself and hire me on the spot. Deal.
The letter and CV probably exists on a now obsolete floppy disc somewhere in my archive of shame. I can’t remember much about the content, but the CV was entirely fictional and the letter probably contained an offer to prostitute myself to the entire company. One thing I do remember very clearly is writing that I would be happy to prepare lines of cocaine for Angus Deayton. It was a long time before that scandal broke, so little did I know this was obviously too close to the bone. Jimmy probably burnt the letter while on his own powder binge cursing my name and vowing never to employ me.2 I’m sure this is why Hat Trick has never given me a job, although I don’t think I ever applied for one after this.
Worse than sending the letter, I tried another kamikaze approach. On a visit to London – possibly at the same time as the abortive Byker Grove interview – I decided to pay Hat Trick a visit. I don’t know why, but I must have read stories of people turning up on doorsteps and walking into a job. London is Britain’s city of opportunity, you go there to make something of yourself. You take risks. You make your mark. It was lunacy. My method was a bit like when Michael Moore or Mark Thomas turn up in the lobby of an evil corporation and demand answers while the poor receptionist wonders what to do. The difference is that Michael and Mark have charisma, a camera crew and a reason to be there. I turned up, shuffled in, gave the receptionist my name and told her that I’d sent a CV. I was convinced that they’d recognise my name and want to chat. But it soon became apparent that my communication had not had the impact I desired.
Time decided that it would move horrendously slowly just to milk the moment as I sat nervously sweating while the receptionist wondered what on earth to do with me. She did pop into the office and returned to tell me that they weren’t aware of me. There was no sign of Jimmy, nor any of the celebrities associated with Hat Trick. It did dawn on me almost as soon as I’d entered that this mission was doomed to failure. Maybe if I’d had the presence of say Matt Berry or Johnny Vegas then things might have been different, but even then they’d have probably just wondered what a brazen, voluminous, beast was doing in the building as opposed to the shy, quiet, slim, young man that I was.
At the time the failure just seemed to prove how difficult and how painfully far away my goal was. What I eventually learned was that just trying to be funny in an approach is not enough. And just doing that looks like you’re trying too hard. You need to have substance. If I’d sent my hilarious letter with a brilliant idea for a show, a script or a video then maybe they’d have overlooked the facetiousness and appreciated that I had something to offer.
I often get emails that try this method and occasionally people turn up at the office, but they’re never anywhere near as embarrassing as my effort and if they do appear at the door, they usually have a CV, a script or DVD to hand over. If someone makes some attempt to be funny then I don’t mind that and sometimes I even drop my hard hearted executive air and laugh. But that alone is never enough. It has to come with some signal of intent that you’re serious about working in the industry. Produce some evidence that you really are up to the job, before trying to help celebrities indulge in substance abuse.3
I’m very lucky that, having ditched my early career development techniques, I have been able to work with some great comedy producers. Sadly I have never worked with Jimmy or the late, great Geoffrey Perkins, who was at Hat Trick, became the BBC’s Head of Comedy and then moved to Tiger Aspect when I was freelancing for the factual department and had the air of a very lovely man, but I do have the pleasure of developing comedy with Jim Reid and Alan Marke at Channel X and have worked with Henry Normal at Baby Cow, thankfully without having to make an arse of myself in their reception areas.
1 Union Street is a notorious Plymouth night time destination. As a teenage goth, then indie kid, my friends and I would be out in our ‘alternative’ gear avoiding eye contact with the drunken hordes. Many would have beaten us to a pulp just for accidentally looking at them. We had to walk the entire length of Union Street, because the indie club was at the far end past the glossy nightspots of Jester, Garters and Sergeant Peppers, where I once worked as a glass collector and barman. Fights broke out every weekend, but I could duck behind the bar.
2 Jimmy Mulville has talked publicly about his personal life in many honest and inspirational interviews.
3 When I finally got a job in television I was disappointed to discover that cocaine was not to be found in every cubicle and what I’ve seen has never been anything like an episode of Mad Men. I’m glad, because I’m not really like that, but the occasional bit of glamour wouldn’t go amiss.