Funny. It’ll be twenty-eight years tomorrow since I joined the job. Twenty-eight years to the day – excepting the war, of course. All this with the merger put me out of sorts. Got me thinking less ahead than behind. I forgot for a minute it’s not about me. It’s about them that turn to us for help in time of need. Weak, defenceless. Old, young. Especially the young… I was born a copper. And I’ll die one, I expect. – THURSDAY
THE ENDEAVOUR ARCHIVES: E14KM
An exclusive interview
by Damian Michael Barcroft
With thanks to PC Banks
Bloody place. It turns me guts. Bleach, sweat, boiled cabbage… and everything on tick. Never Never Land. – JAKES
Second star to the right and straight on ‘till Blenheim Vale
Do not forsake me oh my Pagan
Presenting the final look back at series two and a preview of tonight’s last film of what, I’m sure you’ll agree, has been a remarkable series three…
DAMIAN: Is it fair to say that there were some who were rather displeased that you ended series two on a cliff-hanger?
RUSS: Mmm. Some. But outside of whether Thursday would live or die – there were far fewer chads left hanging than people seem to think. Most, if not all, of the answers are there.
DAMIAN: You wouldn’t do that to us again tonight Russ, WOULD YOU?
RUSS: Never say never. You wouldn’t expect me to tell you in advance, WOULD YOU?
DAMIAN: I think it was Great Expectations in which it was said, ask no questions, and you’ll be told no lies. So, let us fly to safer ground then, NEVERLAND. In retrospect, do you find it particularly pleasing that Jack Laskey (Peter Jakes) had his moment in the limelight in this film?
RUSS: Yes, absolutely.
DAMIAN: At what point did you come up with Little Pete’s heartbreaking backstory concerning his childhood and the awful, terrible things at Blenheim Vale – was this always part of his backstory or created especially for NEVERLAND?
RUSS: I always knew some part of Jakes was whistling past the graveyard. Again – I find it difficult to chicken/egg the process at such a distance. It’s possible it grew from the central notion of Peter Pan. That – JM Barrie — was hard-wired into the story to a much greater degree until fairly late in proceedings.
Initially, the entire story was set around Christmas – Thursday emerging from Burridges, his arms laden with presents as the snow came down. Phil Spector’s Christmas album blasting out of every radio. Endeavour and Monica went to a pantomime of Peter Pan at The New, with her niece and nephew. For a moment, you glimpsed one possible future for Endeavour – that of a happy family man. Endeavour went round and met her Mum and Dad and brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts at a Christmas party. Benny & Clyde were part of Captain Hook’s crew – there might even have been some version of Smee. I’ve got a feeling there was a Thursday family Christmas lunch. And Endeavour alone for the festive. But it’s so long ago that my memory may be shaky.
Alas – Christmas was torpedoed amidships at the very last minute – and all the antique decorations went back to the suppliers unopened. Which was a pity – visually.
But Peter… yes, there was something fun in the notion of two Peters, if not the Two Jakes. Big Pete and Little Pete.
DAMIAN: Would you have written his character any differently in series two had you known in advance that Jack was leaving us?
RUSS: I don’t think so. Not particularly. It’s always the stories that lead with ENDEAVOUR – and telling those, from TROVE through to NEVERLAND, takes up so much screentime that any space I can find for character material is at a premium. Certainly in SERIES II – I had a large company of regular characters – approaching a dozen, I think — to serve. So…
DAMIAN: Benny and Clyde! You’ve added to a wonderful legacy of screen ventriloquist dummies (my personal favourites: Hugo from Dead of Night and Fats from Magic), there really is something so sinister and yet endlessly fascinating about them isn’t there?
RUSS: It’s also a tremendous way to cut down the cost of the cast. Two characters for the price of one actor! I’d seen Oli Lansley in Tim Whitnall’s fantastic Kenny Everett biopic – which was also made by Mammoth – and thought he was simply terrific. I’d no idea he was going to actually try to perform both parts in the moment, as it were. I’d thought we’d drop Clyde’s dialogue in later. But there you are.
RUSS: Neither the character nor her story is played out – in my mind at least. It ain’t over until… &c.
DAMIAN: Endeavour talks to Monica about leaving the police, packing it all in, going abroad and teaching. Would he have made a good teacher do you think?
RUSS: I think he’d have been a fantastic teacher.
RUSS: There were two – a Mister Harris, (David – it might have been. School teachers actually having forenames wasn’t something you even considered a possibility as a kid.) who – legend had it — had some part in the jet engine design for Concorde; he took my youthful scribblings seriously; gave me voluminous notes, and introduced me to writers like Stendahl, and, also, the Hard Boiled school; and, then — Richard Burrows who was my English teacher across during the ‘O’ Level years for Lang & Lit. He was (and is) just a wonderful man – and we became friends after school was done. He’d been in OUDS, and, extraordinarily, I did a show with him at the Edinburgh Fringe in the early 80s – and then, some years later, acted as his Stage Manager // Tour Roadie // Sound and Light Guy on a tour he did of a one man show about John Bunyan. He wrote a very good screenplay version of that as well. He relocated to Sussex, and became a classics master. I haven’t seen him in too long. A lovely, kind, wise, encouraging soul – without whom…
DAMIAN: What advice and, indeed encouragement, would you yourself give to those dreaming of becoming a writer?
RUSS: ‘I can’t lie to you about your chances, but you have my sympathy.’
There’s not really the space available to discuss this properly. And anything I’d have to say would be telecentric. But – briefly, and for what it’s worth…
All I’d ask is — do you want to write, or do you want to be a writer? If it’s the former – then nobody’s stopping you. If it’s the latter, then these aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Don’t dream – DO! Write. Even if whatever other demands you have on your time mean it’s just a line a day. Watch as many films and as much television as you can find time for. See plays. Listen to drama on the wireless. Soak it all up. The good, the bad, and the ugly. If you have an instinct for it, you will take something from everything you see — just by osmosis. Read as many screenplays, plays and teleplays as you can. See how other people have done it. Build your knowledge shot by shot, line by line, scene by scene, beat by beat. Watch the classics. Talk to people who do it for a living, if you know any. Write to those whose work you like or admire, and ask for advice. If they’re decent – and most are – you’ll get a reply.
Do not waste your time and money on any ‘YOU TOO CAN HAVE A SCRIPT LIKE MINE’ courses. Avoid books of screenwriting theory – particularly those with diagrams – they will fill your head with meaningless garbage. Likewise – don’t buy script coverage services. Might as well shout down a well for all the good it’s going to do you. Nobody can tell you how to do it. You have to work it out for yourself.
Send your original material and spec scripts of existing shows to agents, and the companies that are buying. Assess the marketplace. Find the shows with high turnover and output. Study them. Learn the house style. If you don’t have representation, pick up the phone and call the script department/editors of the show you want to write for. Talk to a real live human being. If you can beg for five minutes face to face over a cup of tea all the better. Either way, find out who is looking to expand their roster of contributing writers. Send your material. You won’t be the right fit for everything. Rejection and knockbacks build character – and characters. Don’t expect it to happen overnight. It isn’t the X Factor. Kiss the frogs, build a fortress around your heart, and if you’re fortunate enough to land a paying gig — stay limber.
DAMIAN: What exactly does an executive, as opposed to a “regular” producer do, or at least, what do you do as an executive producer on Endeavour?
RUSS: We mimsy around, getting on everyone’s nerves, and generally being unhelpful to the people who actually get it made. On Series three that would be Producer Tom Mullens and Line Producer – the unsinkable Helga Dowie, who has a long and distinguished track record, and has been with us since the pilot. Essentially, Executive Producers are like General Melchett – safe behind the lines, giving stupid orders to the heroes in the trenches.
A lot of it’s about imparting tone – conveying the overall vision for the series – picking up on the things that are out of whack, or don’t chime happily. Protecting the soul of the show, if you will. Keeping an eye on the details. Saying whether we like the colour the Police Station has been painted, or want it changed. Advising on casting. Watching rushes. Monitoring performances. Giving notes on successive edits. Being there for sundry mixes. Tweaking. Buffing. Polishing. Irritating…
You act as a final arbiter on certain creative choices. But usually – the producer has put all the right HoDs in place, and is managing them brilliantly. You know – we have fantastically talented people working on the thing who know far more about their particular area of expertise than we do. Unless it’s something one feels strongly about – the best thing you can do is get out of the way, and let people get on and do their work.
DAMIAN: We must mention the eminent Anton Lesser. Is Bright softening in his old age?
RUSS: There was a two-handed scene between Thursday and Bright out in the woods that we shot for RIDE – in which they discussed matters arising from Blenheim Vale, and Bright’s part in that. Sadly, we lost it – partly for length, and partly because due to failing light we’d only managed to get it as a wide two-shot – but that dealt with where Bright is.
Disappointing – as it contained one of my favourite Bright speeches ever. A proper window onto his soul. We simply couldn’t use it. Which is always frustrating. There’s another Bright scene in tonight’s FILM that we couldn’t do – material that we had to cut as we couldn’t get the right location… But Anton’s as cool as a cucumber approaching absolute zero and a total pragmatist. And if we get another go around the lighthouse… all these things will get their moment.
I think in terms of softening – the events of Blenheim Vale shook his world-view. He’s always been on the side of the angels, though, I think. For all his bluster. Courageous, in his way. And when the chips are down – devoted to his men. And now – in the shape of WPC Trewlove – his women too.
DAMIAN: Bright occasionally mentions his wife – what are the chances we might meet her one day?
RUSS: No comment.
DAMIAN: Is even Mrs. Bright allowed to call him Reggie or it is Reginald or perhaps even Sir at home too?
RUSS: It’s a pet name — picked up from their colonial travels.
DAMIAN: There are some lovely moments that undoubtedly resonate with viewers who grew up in the sixties (or seventies in my case) such as Thursday’s frequent sage advice: (on warming the polish with a heated spoon before shining) “Look after your shoes and your shoes look after you”, “See you finish your crusts”, “When I started, the good blokes all wore blue” and Bright: “The policeman is your friend”. Is this sort of nostalgia derived from your own childhood memories?
RUSS: Yes – very much.
DAMIAN: Gideon’s Way, the British crime series broadcast between 1965 and 66 is mentioned in the first series of Endeavour by Jakes. What are your most potent memories of the period regarding how the police were portrayed onscreen that may have influenced or flavoured how you depict your men in blue?
RUSS: I think it would have to be Bright’s ‘The Policeman is your friend’. That was drilled into me as a kid. I’d have been too young, I expect, for some of the kitchen sink police procedurals – Z Cars, etc. So, my relationship with the police was more likely to be defined by Carry on Constable, and the Rank Look at Life cinema fillers where every copper wore a uniform, and greeted you with a friendly wave and a smile.
It was a Tufty Club world.
And then it wasn’t.
“Some might argue that FUGUE was the most suspenseful of the first series although I would have to say that HOME takes that honour. You deliberately, and quite masterfully, trick the audience into thinking that the threat is with Thursday and his family throughout the episode right up until the very end. Indeed, I was constantly thinking I can’t believe they are going to kill off Fred and coming to the conclusion that maybe Roger Allam didn’t want to do the show anymore! So, to not only have the unexpected twist of Morse actually getting shot in the nail-biting finale, but also connect this to John Thaw’s slight limp was truly a stroke of genius. Can you please detail how these events came to be tied together and was the leg thing an idea you always wanted to incorporate?”
Considering, obviously unbeknownst to me at the time, you did actually have Thursday shot at the climax this time, you must have been a little amused by the question?
RUSS: Well, I always do my best not to give too much away.
DAMIAN: And what a finale it was! I think the trick to its success, and again, testament to your genius writing in this genre, is that like Jakes in ARCADIA, if this was to be Thursday’s last appearance, it would be a fitting end – beautiful, brilliant and most importantly, utterly believable in its writing and realization. In many other crime/detective shows, there’s never really much sense of life or death danger when the heroes are put in peril – with you and Endeavour, one never really knows do they?
RUSS: That really is very kind of you. Well – we know certain characters survive. But that still gives me a number whose futures are unwritten. No guarantees. I do like to blindside the audience when I can.
RUSS: Well – as I’ve said before — we do like a Western.
DAMIAN: As thrilling as all this was, I suspect it was Thursday’s fantastic “I was born a copper” speech that really sold it for audiences. You even squeezed in a little A. E. Housman for good measure – had you been dying to quote from that particular poem?
RUSS: It’s funny – the Housman… it was the preceding stanza that I liked and it seemed to chime with the unfolding drama, but if you didn’t know it, you wouldn’t, in the moment, make the connection to the more familiar lines. So – in the end, we played to the gallery, and went for the recognition factor of the Remorseful Day stanza.
DAMIAN: In many ways while there are still clearly more stories to be told and new adventures to be had, NEVERLAND marked the beginning of the end for Endeavour as we have known it thus far didn’t it?
RUSS: I suppose it did in a way. Unlooked for – for the most part. As I may have mentioned before – artist availability was a bit of a factor this time out. Drove a coach and four through my design somewhat. But I hope to try to cleave to the Quality Street approach still. Every one is someone’s favourite.
It’s fascinating – watching people’s reactions to the films as they go out – person A will love something in one film, while person B is a bit non-plussed; the following week, you can reverse those reactions. Things which delight some dismay others. And vice versa. You can’t please all the people all the time – and you really oughtn’t try to. However, I do think that there’s a strong, core audience that seems to instinctively ‘get’ whatever it is we’re about, film by film.
I think it’s important that we never feel as if it’s just ticking boxes. Becoming samey. Keep pushing. Trying new things with it. You don’t want it to become a boring, predictable watch. It’s a fairly robust format. And, so long as the regular characters are all firing as they should… it ought to be possible to take the stories in unusual directions while still making sure it remains Endeavour.
DAMIAN: For the final time, please tell us something about the last film of series three, CODA…
RUSS: I guess time will prove whether it’s really CODA or codetta. Both titles were considered. It’s an end, certainly, if not THE end. But, yeh – it’s our last nod to the Fab Four too. For now, at least. I did promise that ’67 would be a roller-coaster. After the thrills, spills and loop the loops of the preceding three stories, this marks the end of the RIDE. Please keep arms and legs inside the carriage until it has come to a complete stop.
DAMIAN: Series three took just under a hundred days to shoot. How much of your time did it take to write and redraft the films?
RUSS: Pretty much all of it. And those hundred days are actually only the days when the cameras are rolling. It doesn’t include down time – prep, weeks between shoots. It’s somewhere between six to nine months all told – because you’re still doing fixes and tweaks right to the end.
DAMIAN: To what extent has the success of Endeavour prevented you from pursuing other projects?
RUSS: I try to work development of other projects around ENDEAVOUR, but any new stuff takes a few years from initial notion to production and broadcast, so… there’s a fair bit of stuff in various stages between blueprint and prototype. But, lately, it’s all had to fit in with the ENDEAVOUR schedule.
DAMIAN: You’ll see Endeavour to the end?
RUSS: If the Network, the Mammoths, the boys, and the audience want me to. I wouldn’t want to overstay my welcome, or drag the show down in any way. If I didn’t think I had anything new to bring to it, then it would be time to go, and pass the baton on. We haven’t got there yet, I don’t think – but it’s an industrial-size can of whup-ass each year, and your capacity to soak it up probably diminishes with each go round.
When the time comes, I’m sure Damien Timmer will take me on a little run out to the Pine Barrens.
Leave the gun – take the cannoli.
DAMIAN: I think you know how much Endeavour means to audiences and how much I appreciate your time in doing these interviews. Thank you very much indeed Russ, and, if 1968 does happen, can we do all this again? – I’ll bring the sandwiches…
RUSS: Thank you. A pleasure. Sandwiches are always welcome.
BRIGHT: The job takes its toll, Thursday. Only so many years of active service in any of us.
THURSDAY: I’m good for a while yet. – NEVERLAND
Interview copyright © Damian Michael Barcroft 2016