Don’t call us… we’ll call you

Over the years, I’ve received a number of calls from a Glasgow television studio, asking if they can borrow my right hand, so they can video it scratching out a few lines of script with a quill. The resultant footage would then be incorporated into some proposed period drama.

Apparently, a quill-wielding actor would be filmed at his writing bureau. Then the scene would cut to a brief, zoomed-in, shot of my hand doing its thing. Then back to the actor. Seamless. Who would ever guess it was me, and not the actor, doing the writing?

Unfortunately, as I mentioned in a previous post, it’s always Copperplate the studio requests, or some other form of pointy-pen writing, which instantly rules out me and my favoured broad-nib Italic.

Here we go again, I thought, when the studio called me a few months ago. But, as the conversation progressed, the possibility of success began to look more likely than in the past. The friendly voice on the line asked if I could be available to be videoed writing a few words in a calligraphic style. I was assured that neither Copperplate, nor a quill, were mandatory, which made me perk up.

“Why don’t you come along to the studio,” suggested the friendly voice, “and show us what you can do.”

It was a challenge I couldn’t resist. So, the following day, I travelled by train to the television studio. A smart young man greeted me with a firm handshake, and introduced himself as the friendly voice from the previous day. He introduced me to a flamboyantly-dressed older man… apparently the director of the programme. We found a vacant table in a communal seating area, where the two of them sat opposite me. It was now me v them, and felt like a proper audition.

The task, it was explained to me, was simple. They needed to video a calligrapher’s hand writing the title of a new series… just five short words… the footage of which would be incorporated into the title sequence.

The older man revealed the title to me. “Can you write it for us now?” he asked, “so we can see how it would look.”

I nodded and, from my bag, produced a selection of calligraphy fountain pens and a pad which I set out on the table. The two men studied the equipment intently. If they were disappointed by the absence of a quill, they kept it to themselves.

I wrote the title a number of times… different sizes, different weights, some compression here, some sharpening there, a little bit of flourishing. Just showing off, I suppose. I sensed two pairs of eyes tracing my pen strokes, scrutinising the lines of writing. I was happy with the standard of my lettering. But, despite my best efforts, I felt that I was failing to impress. I sensed a lack of enthusiasm, that both men were underwhelmed by what was on offer. Maybe it was because they were viewing my calligraphy upside down.

The older man nodded towards my pad. “What do you call that style?” he asked.

“Italic,” I replied.

“Hmmmm…. do you do any other styles?”

You don’t like Italic? I was tempted to ask, incredulous.

Concerned that I was being regarded as a calligraphic one-trick-pony, I opted to illustrate my versatility by writing the title in a more contemporary style. One that was less formal, more lively. While I wrote, the two men remained silent, their enthusiasm remaining in short supply.

“Hmmmm…” came the eventual response from the older man, a fingertip pressed thoughtfully against pursed lips. “To be frank, Duncan, we haven’t ultimately decided on calligraphy for the opening sequence.”

“You haven’t?”

The younger man back-pedalled in tandem with his colleague. “We have another option to consider,” he confirmed. “We have a Plan B.”

“Oh… a Plan B… OK,” I replied, a little flustered. My pen stuttered to a halt, mid-stroke.

So. A Plan B. I was confused about this unexpected u-turn, this Plan B that had turned up unannounced. Without warning, Plan A had gone to the dogs, and I wondered if I had somehow helped it get there.

As if reading my mind, the younger man gestured enthusiastically towards my pad, which he continued to view upside-down. “Oh, we definitely like what you’ve shown us,” he gushed (at this point, I swear to God, he told me how much he admired my ‘r’s). “Definitely!” he continued. “We just have to consider our options.”

“Of course,” I replied, gathering my pad and my pens and packing them away. In the midst of this anti-climax, the older man got to his feet, thanked me, and rushed off somewhere in his gaily chequered trousers.

The younger man escorted me to the exit, where he thanked me with his signature friendly voice and firm handshake. “We’ll let you know,” he said, before he too disappeared.

While walking back to the railway station, I remembered something I once read. When they say, “we’ll let you know”… you know!


Disappointingly, (and discourteously) they didn’t let me know. But, as I said, I knew.

The reason I’m relating this story months after the event is that the series is now being broadcast on tv. Selfishly, I’m disappointed that my rejection didn’t cause the cancellation of the series (I like to think of myself as indispensable).

It’s childish, I know, but I’m boycotting the series. I’m determined not to watch a single episode. Blame my ego, but I simply do not wish to see the title sequence and discover what I was discarded in favour of. Although, it wouldn’t surprise me if I was discarded in favour of Copperplate with a quill.

So, It looks like my right hand needs to wait a little longer before it gets its big break on tv. And I’m digging my heels in… television studios please note… it’s Italic or nothing. It’s time for my favourite script to get the tv exposure it so rightly deserves.

And, finally, for the sake of my reputation… I would like to confirm that (in my opinion, at least) my calligraphy isn’t as bad as the above experience might suggest. It invariably looks best when viewed as I intend.

Which definitely isn’t upside-down.


6 Responses to Don’t call us… we’ll call you

  1. Scarlet says:

    Please tell me the series! I’ll boycott it too 🙂

  2. Now you’ve actually made me laugh out loud! No…it’s not the Fire of London Series that’s coming up. The series in question is actually more than halfway though its stint. Five sixths through its stint tomorrow evening, to be precise. Oh no… I’ve given you a clue. So no more guesses, cos you ain’t getting no more info out of me! Even if you guess correctly, I ain’t admitting nothing!

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