An exclusive interview with writer Toby Finlay

Oscar Wilde wrote that the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I simply couldn’t resist any longer – presenting the first part of my exclusive interview with the screenwriter of the feature film Dorian Gray plus episodes of Peaky Blinders and, of course, Ripper Street – Mr. Toby Finlay.

~ By Damian Michael Barcroft ~

Damian: Toby, thanks for agreeing to do this – again, I think it was Wilde who said no good deed goes unpunished!

Toby: Don’t quote Wilde at me or I’ll draw a gun. There was a time I had hundreds of his epigrams rattling round my head. I’d be spewing Wilde at the supermarket. In my sleep. Actually this kind of interview isn’t a punishment. When we were promoting Dorian Gray I did a couple of particularly asinine interviews… but this is fine. This is tolerable. We can do this. Just… No Wilde. I’m serious. Gun.

Damian: As you know, I’m a great enthusiast of Victorian Gothic Literature and I also have a particular fancy for the work of Edgar Allan Poe. Now, the reason I mention this is because of another of his admirers, the Parisian poet and writer Charles Baudelaire wrote the splendid book The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays in which he praises Poe as the most powerful pen of his age. Also, Baudelaire in perhaps his most famous work, Les Fleurs du mal/The Flowers of Evil (1857), a volume of poetry exploring decadence and eroticism, modernity and the urban metropolis – were obviously themes which you yourself developed in the script for Dorian Gray (2009). Additionally, given the aforementioned collection of poetry, I was intrigued by your own use of the flower and the burning petal motif in your adaptation which I don’t think was in Wilde’s original story. Is it significant that you taught English in Paris before you became a screenwriter and was Baudelaire’s work something you were familiar with and perhaps even influenced by during the writing of Dorian?

Toby: I’m not sure how significant living in Paris was to my writing, though it was deeply significant to my drinking and smoking. But certainly one reason I moved there – and I was 21 at that time – was because I was already heroising writers like Baudelaire, Hemingway, Rimbault… The guys everyone heroises when they’re a dumb young man with a pen in his hand. (I’m also a fan of Poe, incidentally, though that came later.) So yes, I was familiar with Baudelaire – had been since maybe 15 or so: in fact the primary reason I took French A-level was so I could learn (sort of) to read him in the original French. The image of the flower of evil was something that must have struck a sustained chord in me: as you say, I riff on flowers in Dorian Gray, and I do it again quite explicitly in one particular episode during the second series of Ripper Street.

I’m not sure why. Maybe the answer to this is related to my answer to your later question about birds: some objects, as physical ideas, just have a magnetism to them. I think Milan Kundera, in The Art of the Novel, talks about hats and hatstands in his work as “magical objects”: it’s a term which he does not really qualify, but one assumes he simply means ordinary props to which a writer is inexplicably drawn and which become somehow imbued by the currents of the story with a kind of aura. Maybe flowers and birds are just magical objects to me. Though hatstands are pretty groovy now I think about it.

Damian: Baudelaire highlighted Poe’s short story, The Man of the Crowd (1840) as a significant example of “the flâneur”, an urban explorer and connoisseur of the street. I’m fascinated by this idea of someone watching and observing life through the perspective of mysterious and strange individuals who we will perhaps never truly know or understand. I think there is an element of this in your work and I was wondering to what extent you would agree that a writer must inevitably become something of a flâneur himself?

Toby: I’m not sure a writer must inevitably be anything, other than capable of long bouts of solitude and concentration. But I’ve always liked that term flâneur, and I do enjoy walking in foreign cities, just taking in the wildlife. I used to walk the streets of Paris endlessly and I’ve done it in New York too, after Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy left a deep mark on me years ago. In my mid 20s I lived near Waterloo and used to walk along the Thames every day. I was born in London and feel like a creature of the city. The city is in some ways where all that’s best and worst about human beings can be found, and while I would never presume to give advice on either the art or the craft of writing, wandering that territory with an open mind is probably not unhelpful in the long run to a writer.

Damian: Before we discuss Ripper Street, I’m curious to explore your writing process. Where do you write? Does the room have a view, if so, what can you see? Do you write to music – what do you listen to? What books are on your bookshelf? Paint me a picture of Toby Finlay.

Toby: I think I might prefer to remain for the most part shrouded in shadow. I will however tell you the following. My musical holy trinity is Dylan, the Beatles and Bowie – but I never write to them, even though I do often write to music. My bookshelves are mostly fiction, poetry, drama – and are disordered… but if I scan them there are certain names which will always send a raw quiver to the core of me. TS Eliot. Raymond Chandler. Virginia Woolf. Beckett. Cummings. Byron. Roth. DeLillo. I think Don DeLillo is the greatest living writer in English. I hold Underworld up there with Ulysses as a bookend to the 20th century. All of those authors, along with plenty more, make me feel on a daily basis like I should stop pretending to be a writer.

Damian: How long does it take to write a script for an hour-long drama like Ripper Street? And rewrites?

Toby: It varies but generally you’re looking at a few weeks from idea to first draft by way of some sort of outline. My outlines for the first series were much more detailed than for the second, I guess because those in charge had faith that I already knew the world and characters. You always need rewrites to refine the story. Hemingway said the first draft of anything is shit, and like a lot of things he said it was true. But some stories need more reworking than others. Ep 6 of Ripper Street Series 1, for instance, took more time than ep 5, which was written faster and came out – give or take – fully formed. Then you have the invariably depressing process of production tweaks depending on what is or is not physically achievable. Anyway the whole thing moves at light-speed compared to movies.

Another way of answering this, which is certainly true for myself and I believe true of many writers, is that writing is fast but rewriting can take a long time. I mean this in terms of writing as a solo affair, not including notes or production issues. My own first draft is never the first draft I deliver. Writing a first draft is essentially plopping a mass of clay onto your worktop. You may need more or less of it, and it may suggest alternate forms to you, but that only becomes clear the more you work on it.

Damian: As we’ll explore later, your stories feature much historical and cultural detail. Do you undertake any necessary research before even beginning to write or do you research particular elements as you work your way through the script?

Toby: Both. A lot of the time I don’t fully know what I need to research until I start the story. And the key thing for me is always character: that’s my priority. If it came down to choosing between compromising the integrity of the character story or bending history, screw the history. Ripper Street isn’t documentary. But ideally one satisfies both.

But very often I set out to research one thing and then find some detail that opens a whole other doorway, and I become less interested in the first thing. This is one reason I get baffled when I hear about other writers (not on Ripper Street, I hasten to add) hiring researchers to do the heavy lifting for them. Quite often, what you think you’re looking for is far less interesting than some tangential nugget you stumble across on the path.

Damian: As a writer, is there a frustrated part of you that would like complete control over your scripts or do the directors you’ve worked with pretty much share your vision most of the time?

Toby: On Ripper Street I’ve had an excellent relationship with my directors in both the first and second series. I haven’t a bad word to say about them. In fact I’m likely to work again with Colm McCarthy, who shot the series 1 episodes we’re discussing. That said, I am a huge control freak and no amount of control will ever be enough for me. I would like to direct myself, particularly film. But there’s so much about the film industry I truly loathe. Really I should be writing novels where I can pore over every word and full stop and typeface until my obsessive-compulsive disorder implodes and I send myself fully insane.

Damian: Dorian Gray, Ripper Street and Peaky Blinders (above) are set during the Victorian era and just after the first World War. Is this a period of history which you feel particularly comfortable writing about or have a special interest in?

Toby: When I was first offered Dorian Gray, the primary attraction was in approaching British period drama in a wholly anti-traditional, anti-Merchant Ivory, anti-doily way. I think I said in interviews at the time that my primary inspiration was American Psycho – and I stand by that. The 1880s in London were, like the 1980s in New York, a period of bloated decadence in the last days of an empire on the brink of contraction and decline. I said at the time there were parallels between the character of Dorian Gray and Patrick Bateman – though a more obvious and relevant parallel as creatures of their era would, I suppose, be Jack the Ripper and Patrick Bateman.

The Ripper lore itself wasn’t particularly interesting to me – I felt Alan Moore’s From Hell (the book, not the dreadful film) was impossible to top (Alan Moore has been a hero since I was 12 – add him to the bookshelf answer). But there is much else in the period that I find intriguing. So many old certainties in a state of rupture and decay amid the anguished spasms of modernity. I’ve always loved the novels of Conrad, and that sense of an empire beginning to behold its own heart of darkness was appealing to me. A black prism through which to view phenomena which are in fact, one way or another, timeless. Maybe this relates to your question elsewhere about Colonel Faulkner and contemporary wars.

Having said all that, the ideas of my own that I’ve worked on and am working on presently are not period. I’d never want to go back beyond Victoriana, historically speaking; and after Ripper Street I can’t imagine I’d go near that era again either.

Damian: How did you come to be involved in Ripper Street?

Toby: I knew Richard Warlow from years back, from before we were both writers. I was working as a script-reader and he was a film executive, though I don’t think I ever actually worked with him. Anyway we’d met and always got along, and I assume he and Will Gould – producer of the show – asked me to meet about Ripper Street because of Dorian Gray (they’d read the script, which was somewhat harder edged than the film turned out to be). The story I pitched was some vague notion about Jewish anarchists and Russian spies. I thought they’d smile and show me the door, and then hire some people with actual experience in TV (I’d never written TV before this). But amazingly they had faith. I have a great deal of gratitude to both Warlow and Will for that.

Damian: I now want to focus on the fifth episode in the first series of Ripper Street, The Weight of One Man’s Heart. Obviously you worked in close collaboration with series creator and lead writer, Richard Warlow, but I was wondering how much of the plot was planned in advance – for example the overall story arc – and how free you were to just take the characters in any chosen direction?

Toby: At the start of that first series Richard Warlow had a lengthy document with his ideas for main characters and their backstories – he’d particularly thought out Reid and Jackson – and a sense of the overall arc he wanted in terms of the mystery concerning Reid’s daughter and of why Jackson and Long Susan had fled America. But he was – and remains – very happy to give writers the freedom within their episodes to plot as they please. We had a rough idea of what story elements from the over-arching narrative needed to occur in which episodes, but that shifted somewhat during the process. Which suits me, because I’m the kind of writer who largely likes to be left to his own devices. For instance, the whole of ep 6 with the anarchists and Russian spies and the Bloom brothers – that was all stuff I just came up with and they let me run with it. I can’t speak highly enough of Richard Warlow as being the driving force of this show whilst also being a collaborator of great generosity.

Damian: The episode opens with Sergeant Bennet Drake in his cottage shaving in front of a mirror. The camera lingers on his many tattoos which were previously highlighted to great dramatic effect in episode two. We know that Inspector Edmund Reid has his own scars, indeed both physical and emotional, but it seems that Drake’s tattoos also seem to represent his own scarring and history. Was this episode always destined to become predominantly about Drake and his past?

Toby: Initially I was only down to write one episode – episode 6. Ep 5 at that stage didn’t have a writer attached, but one idea which had come up in the storylining room was of some kind of heist, possibly with returning soldiers from some distant imperial outpost. After I delivered ep 6, Warlow and Will Gould were pleased with my work and offered me ep 5 as well. I liked the idea of doing a heist story which was really about something else (i.e. the characters); and there was a sense that in the series Drake hadn’t had a chance to really take centre stage yet, so it was agreed that he should be the focus of this episode.

But at that stage the nature of his past was still a little vague. Warlow had from the beginning imagined Drake as returned from some distant war with all the accordant trauma… But I don’t think it had been fully decided what war, and what trauma. And certainly there was at that point no notion of Faulkner or any such character. Nor was there the premise of Drake being turned away from Reid, being conscripted into the crime story. It was all in the air, so I felt like I had carte blanche here to really dig in.

And so, the whole notion of Egypt and Egyptology and the creation of Faulkner came when I set about researching and writing. I liked the idea of a Colonel figure who was essentially Drake’s corrupted father, who could dominate even Reid and was therefore capable of turning Drake from Reid. And the Egyptian stuff gave him mythic stature, as well as a kind of folklore and creation myth he could have shared with Drake as part of Drake’s “education” and passage into manhood. I spent a few happy days in the British Museum, read The Book of the Dead… And so much of the imagery seemed potent. Particularly, given his love for Rose, the notion of the weighing of the heart.

To give a minor example of how over-arcing strands of the series are moulded: in the original draft of episode 2, Warlow had written Drake as having a tattoo of some kind acquired in mysterious circumstances while at war. When I got into the Egyptian mythology, I wanted to play with Sekhmet as goddess of both love and war and wanted that to be his tattoo. Thus a design was found and that tattoo was retro-fitted into ep 2, so that it could be alluded to visually and in the story and then picked up in my ep 5.

Damian: This is possibly one of Flynn’s finest episodes in terms of providing him with the material for dramatic range and emotion. Which came first, the story of Colonel Madoc Faulkner or the character development of both Drake and Rose Erskine?

Toby: As above, Faulkner came about during the writing of the episode. I think Warlow and Will and I all felt that something should develop here between Drake and Rose because it’s set up in (I think) the first episode when he saves her and first lays eyes on her. But Drake’s love would be unrequited, because (a) it’s more interesting and (b) Warlow had plans for Rose in the later episodes. So I guess the answer would be that everyone wanted this ep to progress their relationship, and that probably preceded everything else on a story and plot level.

Damian: I loved the fleeting glimpse of Drake’s aftershave, a bottle of “Romantic Bay Rum cologne astringent – 58% Alcohol”. Not only might this serve as a hint of the romantic elements of the story that follows and Drake’s hopes of wooing Rose but it also seems to be a reference to the Western elements of the series – particularly in this episode – wasn’t “Bay Rum” a favourite of the cowboys in the Ogallala barber shops?

Toby: I think I put Bay Rum in the script because someone told me it’s what a man of Drake’s position would probably slap on. That in itself wasn’t a conscious Western allusion. Everything else, however, was. I love Westerns.

Damian: In my interview with Mark Dexter [Sir Arthur Donaldson from the first episode of series one] he told me that he was talking to someone in America and they said that Victorian London is basically Britain’s version of the Wild West in terms of backdrop to drama. Indeed, in your episode there are several nods to the genre, perhaps most notably the scene with Drake and Faulkner in a rowdy bar. Faulkner pulls a gun on Drake and the other patrons leap to their feet, chairs scraping as they back away and flee the bar. Is this sort of scenario a deliberate attempt at evoking the Wild West?

Toby: Definitely. As I said, I have a great love of Westerns and the frontier mythology, particularly the revisionist stuff of Leone and Peckinpah. The way Drake and Faulkner end up, rifles on each other… It’s that classic stand-off between former comrades. I was probably thinking of something like Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.

Damian: Your scripts always seem to be rather multilayered and there are many themes and ideas in this episode that may have escaped the attention of general audiences on their first viewing. Firstly, I want to pick up on the copious references to Egyptian history and culture which begin with the aforementioned tattoos and quickly continue into the following scene with Drake and Rose outside the theatre as they are about to see a performance of Antony and Cleopatra. We then have some lovely moments including Rose quoting lines from the play, “Where souls do couch on flowers, we’ll hand in hand, And with our sprightly port make the ghosts gaze…”, and on the subject of flowers once again, Drake has already given her a bunch of roses while delivering the line, “Nothing’s more lovely than a Rose”. Even in this simple and yet effective little scene, we establish many of the episodes plot strands and themes with great precision and economy: lonely Drake desperately looking for someone to share his life with, Rose wanting to escape from the dark world of prostitution into the limelight of the stage and the foreshadowing of the all important Egyptian mythology which resonates throughout the entire episode. Is this pure serendipity, the result of hard work and rewrites or just sheer genius?

Toby: I’m certainly no genius, but nor is it serendipity. What does that leave? Hard work I suppose. Writing ought to be layered, dense with thought. As I said, I rewrite a great deal before I even submit a script and begin production rewrites etc. Those choices you mention were all deliberate, though they certainly didn’t all occur to me at once. But one of the parts of writing I enjoy is seeking out the connections and rhymes that make something feel like more than just the story it tells. So for instance: I wanted Drake and Rose coming out of the theatre. What have they been to see? Well, there’s this strain of Egyptology, so Antony and Cleopatra seems a good fit. Plus it’s a love story, in which a fine man and soldier is ultimately broken over his love for a woman… It just felt right. You swim by night through dead flotsam from the beacons of connection to connection and hope you eventually reach some sort of sunny shore.

Damian: On the subject of dramatic motifs, it would be remiss of me not to mention those bloody birds. Indeed there are enough avian references in this episode to keep Tippi Hedren in therapy for years! On chancing upon the lovebirds in the marketplace at the beginning of the episode, the bird seller says, “Mr Drake! Why, a drake’s a duck, is it not? You’re practically related! Birds of a feather”, and in another scene, Madoc Faulkner excuses himself by stating that his eggs are getting cold. Furthermore, the name Faulkner is somewhat reminiscent of a Falcon/falconer and this link is possibly made explicit in his line to Drake, “You shall not come between the falcon and his prey”. And there’s more, other characters have bird-like names including Harris (a Harris hawk?) and Lynch (Lynch bird?) and I’m sure I saw pictures of birds hanging on the walls in some of the scenes with Drake, Rose and Long Susan. Finally, at the end of the episode, Drake opens the birdcage and as the two lovebirds fly to their freedom, he notices a feather in his hand which he then gently blows away. Earlier in the story, there is a discussion about the Egyptian ceremony of judgement in the Brown Bear pub…

“FAULKNER: The Egyptians placed heart-scarabs with the dead, so their own heart would not betray them. Do you recall the ceremony of judgement, Sergeant?
DRAKE: If memory serves, they believed the gods placed the heart in scales against a feather. The feather of Justice. If the heart spoke of no sin, the scales balanced, and the soul could join the afterlife.”

Drake’s final scene at the end of the story is obviously another allusion to the Feather of Justice and we are reminded once again of the title of this particular episode, The Weight of One Man’s Heart [originally called The Weighing of the Heart], (if the heart became heavy) “if it outweighed the feather… the dead man’s soul was consumed by a terrible demon… they called it the Weighing of the Heart”. I understand the significance of all this with regards to Faulkner’s character and fate but can you please just clear up any ambiguity in relation to Drake’s mortal soul, his sins/redemption at the end of the episode and also explain why you obviously have some sort of weird fetish with birds?

Toby: Again, everything you cite here was a deliberate choice. Once I start riffing on something in my head, connections begin to appear, and then further ones… It’s probably a bit overblown in this episode but the operatic nature of the story means we more or less get away with it. I hope.

As for the ambiguity… I’m happy to let it remain ambiguous, for it to speak to different people in different ways. On a purely technical level it allowed me to tie both strands of the story together with one visual motif (the feather) and for Drake to then bid that symbol goodbye, to put both Faulkner and Rose behind him, and attempt to live another day as a man forging his path as best he can through the world.

And as for birds… I don’t know but I really do have a visual fetish for them. I’m writing two other things at the moment, both wildly different, both with bird riffs. Basically I just don’t have that many ideas. The title, by the way, changed purely because it sounded better; and that final title was actually spoken by Faulkner in the film, right before he puts the gun in his mouth, which appealed to me.

Damian: Ripper Street boasts an impressive rogues gallery with a generous assortment to rival those to be found in Gotham City. We’ve had greedy, corrupt and just plain crazy but Faulkner is not really a villain is he?

Toby: I wouldn’t describe Faulkner as a genuine villain, no. He feels that he and his men have been wronged and he’s full of rage and a desire to claim some kind of justice for them. Armed robbery is probably a misdirected outlet for that rage – so it was therefore important to me that, while he was inviting his men to fill their boots with gold at the mint, his own motivation was more symbolic: it was the destruction of the room in which they press military medals. As he says to Drake at the end, it was never about the gold. It was about making a statement.

Damian: Faulkner is a master of manipulation as are most terrorists or anarchists. He completely exploits Drake’s relationship with Reid and Rose to further his own agenda. However, I think you justify his rhetoric by writing him as both sympathetic to the audience and quite possibly entirely accurate in his assessment of Victorian (and perhaps even contemporary) international affairs and world relations. For example, let’s look at the following excerpts of dialogue you wrote for Faulkner:

“Gordon* was slain by the incompetence of Gladstone and his horde of cowering acolytes. And I have little clemency for men behind desks in high places with low honour.”
“My wars were against enemies of the Empire, not the poor and desperate of its capital… What I know is good men who served our Queen with their all now languish as reward at Her Majesty’s Pleasure… They returned to a homeland which offered neither gratitude nor succour. The best of us made hungry and penniless, will react, in extremis, with extremity.”
* NOTE: Charles George Gordon (1833-85). British general and colonial administrator. In 1873 the khedive of Egypt commissioned him to establish control over the Sudan and fight the slave trade. He was appointed governor of the Sudan in 1877… Gordon returned to the Sudan in 1884 to evacuate Egyptian troops from Khartoum, which was besieged by the Mahdi, the Sudanese rebel leader. In January 1885, Khartoum was overrun, and Gordon was killed just days before a relief column arrived. The popular Gordon’s death horrified Britain and helped bring down the government of Prime Minister William Gladstone (1809-1898).

You must have been aware that audiences might interpret Faulkner’s dialogue as a conscious condemnation of recent global events and perhaps most especially Tony Blair’s wars such as the air strikes in Iraq (98), sending British soldiers to Kosovo (99), Sierra Leone (00), overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan (01) and the invasion of Iraq and subsequent capture of Saddam Hussein (03). Were these issues something that you particularly wanted to address and if so, are you of the opinion that all these wars were unjustified?

Toby: The parallels with contemporary conflicts were not particularly deliberate but certain things remain depressingly constant through all wars, like the branding through a stick of rock – particularly those born of imperialist folly, whether or not that imperialism is explicit or cloaked as something else. As for whether the wars you cite specifically were justified: that’s something I have neither the knowledge nor the inclination to discuss. What I will say is that I certainly don’t believe they can all be clustered together to discuss as one, since they were each wars with very different goals and motivations. I will however freely count myself among the million who marched against waging the Iraq invasion and were roundly ignored by the government.

Damian: Faulkner is anti-monarchy, anti-government and most certainly anti war. It could be argued that these are popular sentiments today – perhaps most especially among the left/liberal of the political spectrum. To what extent might Faulkner’s views reflect your own personal political ideology?

Toby: I’m certainly anti-war. Is anyone pro-war, except for arms companies and despotic lunatics? Beyond that, I respectfully decline to answer. My personal views as a writer are not important: I write partly to explore ideas, and I let characters do the talking for me. One should never confuse what a character believes with what the writer believes. However: it doesn’t take a great detective to notice running through my episodes a strain of rage and contempt directed at those who would abuse power and exploit or bully the vulnerable; and that sense of anger is certainly not something from which I would seek to distance myself.

Damian: I now want to turn our attention to Captain Homer Jackson. He’s a loveable rogue, a man who truly enjoys his many assorted vices and also something of a wiseass. You provide him with some of the best lines in the series and I was wondering if you had a special affinity with the character because from where I’m standing, you and Jackson seem like two fellas with plenty in common?

Toby: There’s probably quite a lot of common ground between Jackson and me, though I’m not sure that’s something to be enormously proud of. Put it this way: his voice – that world-weariness, that anger and disappointment at the world and his place in it… It’s not a great stretch for me to write in that voice.

Damian: There’s a great deal of comedy to be had from Jackson, especially in the two episodes you wrote for the first series. For example, suffering from yet another one of his hangovers and talking to Reid and Drake over the slab in the Leman Street laboratory where there is a severed horse’s head staring up at them, Jackson explains his late arrival to work by revealing he has a headache! Also, as Drake tries to interfere with unwanted advice, Jackson quips “Perhaps you’d care to take the reins”. However, two of Jackson’s best lines in this episode must surely be “Her sweet little mouth could suck a melon through a rye stalk” and “there’s no shame in supping a buttered bun, huh?”. You seem to relish good dialogue, does comedy come easy to you as a writer and are these amusing turns of phrase something you pick up in your social circles – perhaps your homies – please tell me you have a posse?

Toby: One of the most enjoyable parts of writing Ripper Street for me is that the dialogue is antiquated but just on the cusp of modernity. So there are times you can go into this kind of arcane underworld demotic, and times you can launch into the sort of baroque oratory that, say, Faulkner is prone to. It’s very seldom as baroque as, say, Deadwood (nor as profane, sadly) – but I rejoice whenever there arises a chance to go to town. Clive James has an expression about turning a phrase till it catches the light… I always loved that idea. And as a screenwriter it’s the one time your actual language reaches the audience. So maybe it’s an ego thing. But whether it’s Shakespeare or Mamet or Chayefsky or the Coens, I’m certainly appreciative of finely wrought dialogue.

As for comedy. First, nothing comes easy to me as a writer. Nothing. I once heard someone say “I don’t enjoy writing, but I do enjoy having written” – which more or less nails it. But comedy was what first got me into writing way back when I was a teenager – my first attempts were sketches for school assemblies and so forth – and it remains something I’m drawn to. I like the humour of David Lynch or the Coens, or Charlie Kaufman or Larry David. Or in terms of current stand-ups Louis CK, Stewart Lee, Doug Stanhope. Jet black humour. Laughter in the dark.

And of course I have a posse. I have four people round the keyboard typing up my dictation to your questions while I lounge in a smoking jacket taking my afternoon pipe.

Damian: As anyone who follows you on twitter (username: @finkowska) will know, you frequently display a rather provocative and almost misanthropic side to your personality. However, I have always found you to be exceptionally courteous and helpful. Your scripts feature hard-talking roguish characters who also happen to possess a heart of gold – who is the real Toby Finlay?

Toby: There’s a letter from Jonathan Swift to Alexander Pope where he famously says “I hate and detest that animal called Man, although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth” [It’s Sept 29, 1725]. That pretty much sums it up. I’m a depressive, in large part because most things people do to each other and to the world are shitty. But there are, here and there, chinks of light. Maybe.

As for Twitter… I don’t take it very seriously, and I certainly don’t tweet as a representative of the show in any way. Mostly I use it as a conduit for overbrimming vitriol if I’m drunk or else to see how many of my dozen or so followers I can shock into unfollowing me as crude and idle morning sport.

Damian: To conclude our thoughtful and academic study of Ripper Street, it has to be said that there are some rather serious hotties on the show: MyAnna Buring, Charlene McKenna and Gillian Saker to name but three. If you had to pick just one, who would you spend your last few shillings “entertaining” for the evening?

Toby: Such a question could be asked only by someone who has never known the particular distemper which erupts like a solar flare from an actress spurned. But this is easy because I’d take all three. To Vegas. And you’d never hear from any of us again.

Damian: Without wishing to make a rumpus, a man has got to be vocal in his pleasures so I’d just like to say it’s been a great privilege to have had the honour of this interrogation and I very much look forward to strapping you to a chair and sweating it out under the lights again very soon. Thank you Toby.

Toby: Till then. Come get your cream, Peaches.



MAR 29 – 09:00PM – BBC AMERICA

MAR 30 – 12:45AM – BBC AMERICA

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