Author: Terry Ravenscroft
Today, Norm Goldman, publisher and editor of bookpleasures.com is excited to have as our guest Terry Ravenscroft. Terry is a British television comedy scriptwriter who wrote the scripts for such television shows as The Les Dawson Show, The Two Ronnies, Morecambe and Wise, Alas Smith and Jones, Not the Nine O'Clock News, Dave Allen, Frankie Howerd, Ken Dodd, Ray Hudd and others. Additionally, he wrote many episodes for the situation comedy Terry & June and the award-winning BBC radio series Star Terk Two. Terry now writes humorous books, the latest of which is an autobiographical journal entitled Stairlift to Heaven.
Norm: Good day Terry, and thanks for participating in our interview.
Terry: My pleasure, Norm.
Norm: Did you realize at a young age that you had a knack for comedy writing?
Terry: Far from it. In fact, I didn't start writing until I was in my mid 30s. I have, however, ever since I can remember, been a big fan of radio, TV and film comedy.
Norm: What is it about writing comedy that appeals to you? As a follow up, do you have to be funny to write comedy, or can a good writer write any situation funny?
Terry: To the first part of the question: Nothing more nor less than that I like to make people laugh. It gives me a buzz like nothing else. To the second part: Yes. Without necessarily being the sort of person who is cracking jokes every five minutes, you do have to be able to see the funny side of things to write comedy. And, no, I don't think a good writer can write a situation funny; the situation must be intrinsically funny. The trick is to spot it as that, then you go to work on it.
Norm: How did you make the transition from comedy scriptwriter to a writer of humorous books, and how are they different?
Terry: It was a gradual development. My first two books were humorous correspondences with airline and food and drink companies, respectively Dear Air 2000 and Dear Coca-Cola. Some of the exchanges of letters amounted to ten or more pieces of correspondence, and, in effect, became mini stories. And of course they were narrative, not dialogue. During the process of writing them, I felt my letter-writing and narrative skills improving, and by the time I'd completed the books, I felt confident enough to write a novel. I have now written nine. Whether my confidence was justified must be the decision of the reader. I was and still am a great fan and avid reader of the humorous books of British writers Tom Sharpe and David Lodge, who have influenced my writing, if not my style, immensely. And although John Steinbeck is not known especially as a writer of comedy - Tortilla Flats notwithstanding - I am a great admirer of his work.
Although the object of writing comedy scripts and writing humorous books is the same - to make people laugh - they are markedly different. Gag writing, and sketch writing to a lesser extent, are quick-fire, honed down to a minimum of words for maximum effect, whereas with a novel, the author has time and space to develop the characters and the situations he puts them in. Having said that, my years spent scripting one-liners and 5-minute sketches has stood me in very good stead when writing the dialogue in my books.
Norm: What kept you going as a comedy scriptwriter, and what keeps you going as a writer of humorous books?
Terry: An absolute faith in my ability to make people laugh. And the pig-headedness to stick at it when, on some occasions, I find that the ability is taking a time out.
Norm: What would you say is the main difference between British and American humor?
Terry: I don't think there is much difference, if any. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a joke is a joke is a joke. Stan Laurel was British, Oliver Hardy American; I'm sure they understood each other perfectly. I'm equally sure that their British and American audiences appreciated their comedy to the same degree and in the same way.