Organisers of Exeter’s Black Lives Matter protest have received death threats and abuse – Devon Live

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Death threats and racist abuse against two women who organised a Black Lives Matter event in Exeter have been reported to the police.

More than 400 people gathered at Flowerpot Playing Fields in Exwick on June 7 for the event named Exeter Peaceful Protest Against Racism (George Floyd).

However, organisers Maia Thomas and Sam Draper have endured a wave of abusive messages, some of which threatened their safety.

The most serious threats have been passed to the police, and they have both vowed to continue campaigning.

activism

Maia told ITV News: [I have had] death threats, messages saying ‘You’re pretty for a black girl, why don’t you use your looks instead of your voice?’

“Messages like, ‘I’m going to throw smoke grenades at you’, saying they are going to attack me. I have to have security in Exeter when I’m at work now.

“So even though this is a good movement, it has put my safety in danger.”

On social media, Maia has received messages which include ‘white supremacy is the way forward’ and ‘white lives matter not blacks, so you need to be dealt with’.

Maia said: “I wouldn’t say I’m scared, but I’m more aware of my surroundings.

“I would rather have to be aware of my surroundings and have my voice heard and have a movement happen than sit back and say nothing.

“If people feel the need to threaten my life just because I want my voice to be heard and to have equal treatment, then I need to do this.”

Alison Hernandez

Mum of one Sam has also been targeted by people questioning why she is choosing to speak up.

She said: “[They say] why are you supporting a black person? And I’m like, ‘why not? She’s my friend’.

“I’m a privileged white woman, I don’t have to go through what Maia and other people have to go through. It shouldn’t be like that.”

Anti-racism

Devon’s police and crime commissioner says she is disgusted by the abuse.

Alison Hernandez told ITV News: “It’s absolutely disgraceful. I want people to stand up for what they believe in, and I will fundamentally support people whatever their view to have the right to say it, and to organise around it.”

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So much for saying you want a quiet life, Meghan Markle | Stuff.co.nz

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COMMENT: ​So Meghan Markle is reportedly attending the Met Gala in May. Because where better to celebrate your newfound privacy and “space” than at “the Oscars of the East Coast”, “the Super Bowl of red-carpet events”?

What could be more perfectly suited to anyone fleeing “intense scrutiny” and “commoditisation” than a mega-bash to which anti-commodification activist Kim Kardashian once turned up dressed in a nude-effect wet-look dress? A celebrity Pavlova, where the 225 photographers will take an estimated 50 shots a minute, before blasting millions of images out into the ether? Although why this is more appealing than a royal visit to the Mumbles Lifeboat station in South Wales is anyone’s guess.

Anthony Devlin
Has Meghan Markle lost the sympathy of the public?

According to sources at the weekend, Markle is to leave Prince Harry at home for the night, so “she can establish herself once more in Hollywood”, apparently attending the Met Gala with Vogue’s editor, Edward Enninful. This makes about as much sense as a woman who craves the quiet life asking her LA agent to find her a leading role in a superhero film, “something that pays big” – which is exactly what one Sunday paper claims Markle has done.

As the Sussexes fly back to Britain to complete their final engagements as working members of the Firm – and face the Royal family for the first time since The Statement, the petulant Instagram post from a fortnight ago in which they whined about being made to drop the “SussexRoyal” brand despite there being nothing legal to stop them using it – the pair may have no choice but to brazen it out.

I’m not sure the Sussexes will understand just how colossal a miscalculation that statement was. After all, you have a young man and his wife turning on a 93-year-old grandmother at one of the toughest moments of her life. You have them disregarding the pain and sadness prompted by Prince Philip’s ill health, Prince Andrew’s involvement with a paedophile and her beloved grandsons falling out – all because they have a brand to promote. Is there any way back from that?

Had you asked me a month ago, I would have said yes. Despite the acts of clumsiness and the missteps we’ve witnessed over the past two years, I would still have said yes. So they invited a bunch of A-listers that they’d only met once to their wedding. How many of us would do the same if we knew George and Amal would actually come? Was their dispensing of certain royal traditions really so bad? The insistence on Archie’s christening remaining private and the setting up of their own “breakaway” website?

Harry has always been his own person. At this point, one could still push a convincing narrative that these two were “breathing new life” into an outdated institution.

But the precise moment the couple began to lose the public’s sympathy wasn’t when they chose the hospitality of a billionaire in Vancouver Island over that of the Queen at Christmas, or indeed when they decided to make the desired “break from royal duties” permanent. No – that moment can be charted back to a lament the misty-eyed Duchess of Sussex made in the ITV documentary charting the couple’s African tour last year: “Not many people have asked if I’m OK.”

Because that single sentence managed to eclipse everything the couple were in southern Africa to highlight – from the 1,000 minefields that have yet to be cleared in Angola, to the abject poverty in Malawi and HIV-hit children in Botswana – and make it all about Markle.

Prince Harry Meghan Markle met with crowds when they visited Auckland.

It may be unfair to blame Meghan any more than Harry for these recent missteps. But one thing is certain: neither the words nor the sentiments in The Statement appear to be those of a happy young couple, revelling in the joy of each other and their nine-month-old baby.

And I worry that something is unravelling behind the scenes. Because if their intention were really to enjoy a quiet life, why would they care about a title that can only ever be used for professional profit and status?

Why would the team of LA-based agents, lawyers and publicists be necessary and the showbusiness parties and blockbuster film roles so appealing?

You don’t need those things or grand branding to live a serene and peaceful life. But solid family relationships? They’re essential.

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Will X Factor Celebrity improve the show’s ratings?

It’s the time of year again where your TV guide fills up with more late-night entertainment.

ITV’s The X Factor used to dominate the weekend ratings with its sometimes harsh auditions and names like Beyonce and Rihanna at the live finals.

But over the years, the show’s figures have dropped to less than half of what they were in 2010.

The first episode of the celebrity edition aired on Saturday, with 4.71 million viewers.

The X Factor reached peak viewing figures in 2010 when, according to the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB), episodes averaged more than 14 million viewers in the UK.

Last year’s series, won by Dalton Harris, averaged roughly six million viewers, so last night’s figures of five million aren’t a great start for the series.

The format is simple, celebrities who are already known by the public, but not for singing, compete to impress judges Simon Cowell, Nicole Scherzinger and Louis Walsh.

The line-up caters to a range of ages, including everyone from Love Island stars and social media influencers, to broadcast journalist Martin Bashir.

newsSpeaking last week at the show’s launch on Thursday, original judge Louis Walsh told Radio 1 Newsbeat: “It needed something different.
This is a whole new chapter and I think it’s the future for X Factor.”

 

The first episode, showing auditions in front of various music producers and writers in Simon’s garden in Malibu, received mixed responses online.

The format is far from the small, minimally designed audition room with an X on the floor from early series’, but the judges haven’t changed much.

Reality star Megan McKenna told Newsbeat: “I was so happy when I found out it was judged by Simon, Nicole and Louis because they’re the originals.

“I’ve watched the show growing up my entire life, so singing in front of them was one of the best moments of my whole life.”

BBCDermot O’Leary will once again host the series and be the contestants’ general shoulder to cry on.

He said: “It may well be that we uncover this incredible singer, it may well be that it doesn’t fly – but it’s definitely worth the risk.

“Whether we can find a recording artist with these celebrities – probably not! As long as we can put on a good entertainment show, that’s what matters.”

Nicole agreed that the show was more about providing entertainment, saying: “We still get pretty great ratings, all we can do it put on the best show we can, and hopefully we can entertain the people who are watching.”

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Mental health website struggles after royal advert

A mental health website has struggled to cope with demand after a promotional video voiced by the dukes and duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex aired on TV. The film screened on Sky, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and MTV on Monday evening.

Since then the Every Mind Matters website has been intermittently showing the message: “Something went wrong. Please refresh or try again later.”

Public Health England said it was looking into the crash but thought it could be due to a surge in traffic.

news

The three-minute film is intended to promote Every Mind Matters, an initiative by Public Health England (PHE) and the NHS, to help people look after their mental health and support others.

The film is narrated by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who in May launched a text messaging service for people experiencing a mental health crisis through their royal foundation.

In the film, written by Richard Curtis and directed by Rankin, Prince William begins: “Everyone knows that feeling, when life gets on top of us.

“All over the country, millions of us face challenges to our mental health – at all ages – at all intensities, and for all sorts of reasons.

“We feel stressed, low, anxious, or have trouble sleeping. Me, you…”

Prince Harry continues: “Your brother, your mother, your colleague, or your neighbour. Waiting, wondering, hoping, hurting.

“We think there’s nothing to be done. Nothing we can do about it.”

Meghan then says: “But that’s so wrong. There are things we can do. From today, there’s a new way to help turn things around. Every Mind Matters will show you simple ways to look after your mental health.”

BBC Catherine continues: “It’ll get you started with a free online plan designed to help you deal with stress, boost your mood, improve your sleep and feel more in control.”

The royals are joined by other celebrities and public figures whose lives have been affected by poor mental health.

They include the actresses Gillian Anderson and Glenn Close, singer Professor Green, former England cricketer Andrew Flintoff, television presenter Davina McCall, and Bake Off star Nadiya Hussain.

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I love drag. It’s dangerous: Graham Norton and Alan Carr on desire, camp and cancel culture

As RuPauls Drag Race comes to the UK, two of its judges discuss homophobia, the celebrity they first fancied and why todays comedy audiences want more kindness

Alan Carr

How do you think you would do if you were contestants on RuPauls Drag Race?
Graham Norton:Poorly.
Alan Carr: Before I started dressing up as women in sketches, I thought: I bet because Im not a looker as a man, Im one of those ones that, when you put on the make up, I am quite something quite stunning. And no. It just doesnt translate.

Ive seen the first episode of your show and it is a lot more messy and anarchic than the US version.
Alan:Drag queens in the UK, they survive it all theres a hen party, a stag party, people throwing beer bottles. They work not on their heels, but on their wits.
Graham: Even the ones that arent funny are funny. Suddenly, you realise how unfunny some of the American ones are.

Do you think the UK version might get lost in translation?
Graham: Funny is funny, I think.
Alan: I sort of hope it does get a little bit lost. I had to go in and tell RuPaul who Kim Woodburn [the TV personality and cleaner] is. How can you explain to Americans who Kim Woodburn is? Its just nice, for once in my life, to not be the campest one in the room.

Do you ever find that you check yourselves in public any more that you worry about people recognising that youre gay?
Alan: I give up with all that. I give up.
Graham: But I understand it. I mean, sometimes you do, because if you feel like someones gonna punch you, then yes, you do. Still, now, you know. Its funny when people talk about coming out, because you want to say to them: it never ends. You think you come out and thats the end of it. No. Because then its the first nice day of the year and the cab driver says something about Oh, I love the summer, you know, theyve all got their tits out, and youre like: is this a moment? Is this worth my time? Do I reveal myself?

Do you still encounter a loathing of camp among some straight-acting gay men?
Graham: I think you do in that, still, straight acting is an ideal. And thats just part of our sexuality. Were all prone to that. I remember seeing a BBC Three thing about young gays down in Brighton, and my name came up, and the idea of being me was just horrific to them. And it broke my heart, because they were me. I just thought: But you are little mes, you are the fey, camp ones.
Alan: I say to Graham, do you remember when we used to get slagged off by the snooty gays, you know: Oh, camp is that really how gay men should be portrayed? I mean, look at whats come since, love. Were like Vin Diesel and Sylvester Stallone, compared with that. Camp is different things to different people. Did you ever watch Dynasty? What about when the son came out as gay and had a fight? That, to me, was the stirring.
Graham: No, my stirring was Alain Delon in The Yellow Rolls-Royce. He took his shirt off. And I remember trying to discuss with a boy at school how lovely his back was.

How did he respond?
Graham: Well, it was a nice car!

Alan

Bring it on Alan Carr, Michelle Visage, Graham Norton, judges of RuPauls Drag Race UK season one, with contestants. Photograph: James Spawforth/BBC

Youre both known as chat show hosts. Who have been your worst and best guests?
Alan: Im not going down that road. I mean, booking for a chat show is when you are on Channel 4 and youre not
Graham Norton it is pulling teeth. [Turns to Graham] One time you had David Beckham on, just as an amuse-bouche. He just came out for 10 minutes and then went away! And Im like: Oh no, which reality star am I talking to today?
Graham: But at Channel 4 when we started we had exactly the same thing. For that audience you have to push things further and its ruder and I think publicists get really nervous. So actually on BBC One where its nice, everythings lovely, its much easier to welcome people on.
Alan: Towards the end of Chatty Man I just found that they wanted more vitriol. Then the monologue at the end was becoming a nightmare. I mean, you would go to a function and you would be like: Oh my God, Simon Cowell is coming along in his built-up shoes. You cant keep pushing the envelope, because socially you become a pariah. And the people you slag off in the monologues, when you meet them, theyre actually quite lovely. And its the people you like who are the complete arseholes.

Do you think comedians should be worried about cancel culture [where someone is called out or boycotted online]?
Alan: Its a nightmare. I just feel that if standup comedy disappears, where do you go … I dont know. Let me have a think about this. It does wind me up.
Graham: Im in two minds about it. On the one hand, I think its annoying that youre being told what to say But funny continues you just have to be slightly cleverer about what youre funny about. When alternative comedy began, it was saying, OK, Bernard Mannings act: that doesnt exist any more. And I think we have started to drift back to Bernard Manning. People are using really lazy targets in a kind of look at us, we can say anything way. I think theres nothing fearless about soft targets. Its actually the opposite of fearless. Youre picking on people who dont have a defence, who dont have a voice.

Graham, do you ever miss the camp smuttiness of your old Channel 4 show, So Graham Norton?
Graham: I dont. Because [that kind of thing is] still on the telly, if you want that. Its there. But happily, its not being presented by a 56-year-old man. Because I think that it was already getting quite dodgy by the time I stopped doing it, in my 40s. And it just becomes unseemly.

Alan
Youve already broken so many rules just to get on stage. It gives you a freedom and theres something dangerous about drag still, and I enjoy that Alan Carr and Graham Norton. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

What do you mean by dodgy?
Graham: I think its unseemly for someone of a certain age to be doing all of that. I still find it funny, but not as funny as I did. Things shock me now that wouldnt have shocked me when I was 25. Im a bit like [sharp intake of breath] he said cunt twice! Maybe I have become more sensitive.
I always think its weird when people talk about jokes and what you can do, or you cant say anything now. And its like, the only people stopping you are your audience. They decide whats funny and whats not funny. There isnt some weird comedy police. If I came out in front of my audience on a Thursday night and did some of those jokes we did [on
So Graham Norton], the audience would just look ashen. And they wouldnt like it. It is partly, I think, because of Twitter and things now, where theres so much bile and viciousness out there that people dont want that in their entertainment.

Did you see the online backlash against drag queen Baga Chipz when she was announced as a contestant on UK Drag Race? It was because of an old article in which she said it was OK for gay people to vote Tory in the 2017 general election.
Alan: Well, thats her opinion, isnt it? Its an opinion. Its dangerous when you start telling people they cant have an opinion on something. And, you know, you dont cancel someone, you engage with someone. Thats the problem. I think thats why I was struggling with the cancelling thing. Because it doesnt actually cancel if anything it gives people more column inches. Doesnt anyone make any mistakes any more?
Graham: Apparently, they do.
Alan: It sounds like I work at Hallmark, but every day is a journey and you get better and thats the whole point of life.
Graham: Try working at the BBC. Easy for you to say, Mr ITV over there. Going back to the comedy, I think there is something about drag that gives performers licence to do stuff. Every performer that gets on stage has a persona, youre never truly yourself it doesnt matter who you are. Youre putting something on, but I think, because in drag you are hidden, you can say and do things and an audience will allow you to do them. Like [US drag queen] Bianca Del Rio does material that no one else is doing Joan Rivers type stuff. A proper insult comic. And that isnt that popular right now. But shes getting away with it.

It does seem that with drag queens the bar for what is deemed acceptable is slightly lower.
Alan: Because youre otherworldly: your rules dont apply to this world.
Graham: Youve already broken so many rules just to get on stage. It gives you a freedom and theres something dangerous about drag still, and I enjoy that.

Do you think things are getting worse for LGBT people in Britain?
Graham: Well, theyre certainly repetitive. Why does anyone study history? Why do we bother?
Alan: The one thing you do learn from history is that you dont learn from history. Its becoming a bit of a minefield just the semantics and the language. I feel as if we cant really get to the problems, because we have to tiptoe through this minefield of language. It would be nice just to get it all out on the table and discuss, but I think sometimes social media can blur all that.
Graham: Twitter, I think, must destroy some young gays. If you stick your head above the parapet and you retweet the wrong thing, or you comment on the wrong thing, suddenly you must think the world is so ugly, and so horrible. And I think thats properly dangerous. Because when youre a kid, the one thing you dont know is that this is just going to blow over. And even though people are saying they want to rip your head off and shit down your throat, theyre never going to say boo to you if they see you in the street.

Alan, I read somewhere that you live on a farm with Julian Clary and Paul OGrady. Is that true?
Alan: No! I mean it sounds like the most amazing sitcom, but yeah, its been said that I live on a farm with Paul OGrady and Julian Clary, and I would love it to be true, but its not. I dont know where that came from.
Graham: But you do farm, dont you?
Alan: Well, I just mince around in some wellies [on his husband, Pauls farm]. I am so crap down there, because its all shit and death. You see an animal on its side and youre like: Please be a narcoleptic, please dont be dying, please be having a kip. I cant bear it.

So theres no chance of you doing a farming show on telly?
Alan: No. Listen, Ive had the phone calls. I know how they want me they want me pulling a cows teat, screaming Ah! Ah! [mimes milking a cow]. They want another Rebecca Loos.

So, just to bring it back to drag
Graham: Speaking of death and shit.

Do you think drag is here to stay in mainstream culture or is it just having a moment?
Graham: When Drag Race started, drag was nobodys first choice. Something had happened in your life. You failed at something else. Or you were hiding from something or there was some story before you got to the moment where you were dressed as a woman, lip syncing. I think thats changed. There are now children growing up thinking: I want to be a drag queen.
Alan: It will never go away. I mean, listen, you know, in the Bible obviously I havent read it for ages
Graham: Well, we didnt expect this, did we! We did not see this coming.
Alan: Wasnt there something in the Bible about how [men] should never wear womens clothes or the other sexs clothes, what was that all about? Theres something about transvestism and drag in the Bible, I swear it. So its been around for ages. I think it will be around for ever because it is a state of mind. Theres a male energy and a female energy and I think you get it in performers like Prince, Michael Jackson, George Michael, David Bowie there is something magnetic in that fight between male and female going on before your eyes. And I feel in good drag you cant take your eyes off of it.
Graham: That is really true.
Alan: Thats actually deep. But cut out the Bible bit. I think we all knew I was out of my depth.
Graham: I hope drag is here to stay because I really enjoy it. Instagram drag may go away the idea of boys sitting in their bedrooms painting their faces. But actual drag performers Its midnight ladies and gentlemen, please welcome thats going to go on for ever.

RuPauls Drag Race UK starts on BBC Three on 3 October at 8pm and will be exclusively available on BBC iPlayer

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Martin Freeman: The detectives moral dilemma drew me in

The Sherlock actor on his new role as a real life police officer who broke the law to bring a double murderer to justice in A Confession

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No one who learns how the police got the killer Christopher Halliwell to confess can help but wonder what they would have done: break the law and face the consequences? Or toe the line? Actor Martin Freeman was no different when he watched interviews with the controversial investigating officer Det Supt Steve Fulcher back in 2011.

Before you even realise it you are thinking, how would I have acted? says Freeman ahead of the broadcast next month of A Confession, an ITV drama series in which he plays Fulcher. I was hit by what a very high price Steve paid, and is still paying, for doing something, although not legal by every letter of the law, that you would be hard pushed to find anyone to say was terribly wrong.

From the moment Fulcher arrested Halliwell on suspicion of kidnapping 22-year-old Sian OCallaghan the clock was ticking. The detective believed the missing woman might still be alive and so he did not wait for the suspect to have access to a lawyer, even though this would inevitably damage his career and any future court case.

Certainly this drama makes you wonder if you could have been so brave, because who, with a life at stake, would really wish Halliwell had been given the opportunity to clam up? asks Freeman.

OCallaghans short walk home from a Swindon night club in the early hours of Saturday 19 March 2011 should have taken her less than 15 minutes. But she never made it back. The polices first evidence that an abduction had taken place came when a text from her worried boyfriend was shown to have been received on her phone 12 miles away near the Savernake Forest at 3.24am. How had she travelled so far?

On the following Wednesday, Fulcher and his police team suddenly called off a volunteer search of the area. They had tracked down the driver of a green minicab seen pulling up next to OCallaghan. He was Halliwell, a 47-year-old father of three.

Halliwell was arrested in an Asda carpark as he attempted to buy a large number of paracetemol tablets. The next step should have been to caution the suspect during the short drive to Gablecross police station. Instead, Fulcher took Halliwell to Barbary Castle, an iron age hill fort, for hours of personal questioning.

Christopher
Christopher Halliwell who was eventually convicted for murdering two women. Photograph: Wiltshire Police/PA

The strategy worked, although it did not save a life. Halliwell eventually revealed that OCallaghans body was buried near Uffington. The killer went on to reveal that another body, belonging to Becky Godden-Edwards, a 20-year-old missing for nearly a decade, was in a Gloucestershire field.

Later Fulcher was accused of breaching the guidelines of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (Pace) and both Halliwells confessions were deemed inadmissible as evidence. In January 2014 the detective was found guilty of gross misconduct. He resigned from Wiltshire police that spring.

The biggest tragedy is the women who died and their families. But this is an awful thing that happened to him, says Freeman. It was the wider implications of the policemans dilemma that drew him to the screenplay. Scriptwriter Jeff Pope agrees: This is not just about how the bodies were found. It is beyond that. It is about what we want our police to do.

The detectives actions were largely supported by the family of OCallaghan and by Goddens mother, Karen Edwards, who is played by Imelda Staunton in Popes drama and who campaigned to change procedure laws, Pace, to give more protection to the police.

Freeman and Pope admit there is no shortage of police procedurals on television but they argue this story is unique. There may be a disproportionate amount of cop stuff, but by sticking close to a true story you avoid cliches, Freeman says. Were living in a society where bad things happen and we all want bad people to be brought to justice – whether they are cops or robbers. Fulcher was deemed to be a bad guy by some people because he did not dot every i. It is the first time Freeman has played someone he has actually met and he found it an interesting prospect. Impersonation was never the plan, the actor says: I did put in a few mannerisms that were helpful and germane, but not if it meant railroading a scene just so I can show what research Ive done. The story is moving at such a pace, I cant stop to show people another thing I gleaned about Steve.

Freeman was gratified, though, from an ego point of view, by the reaction of Fulchers family, who felt he had captured the man they know. There is a proviso, though. By Fulchers own admission, the man I met was not the man I would have met in 2010. I do know he was never fantastic at suffering fools. And that may, or may not, have been instrumental in what happened to him afterwards, since if I have rubbed you up the wrong way and you later see an opportunity to kick me in the nuts, you might take it. It is pretty beyond question he was a very good copper. And when people are very good at their job, sometimes people resent it.

For Freeman, the role was a fresh chance to underline his versatility. Since his breakthrough lead role in The Office in 2001, he has dodged typecasting. When I was 30, I did have a fear of being locked in. I could easily have made a career of just doing lovable schmucks next door, he says.

Freemans subsequent portrayal of Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit films and his high-profile stints playing opposite Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock have also loomed large. Although Watson is an intermittent long-runner, on the whole I have managed to keep moving, he says.

He hopes A Confession will give viewers a version of Fulchers story that stays near the truth: We havent made anyone into a demon or an evil idiot. Pope also wants his screen version to offer some cartharsis for the former detective, who has complained to him of the continued trauma of feeling that he is shouting out, but that no one can hear him.

Halliwell was eventually convicted for both murders and is unlikely to ever be released from prison, but the case was deeply damaging for the detective. With luck, Pope feels, his series can provide a neater conclusion.

There is no question of a second series and this finality is something Pope knows that Freeman values. I like things being finite, the actor agrees. With a cultural thing, I am always glad things end. They are supposed to end.

A Confession will be on ITV in September

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The truth about comedy writers’ rooms

Grubby banter, sexless flirting and the smell of pizza and ambition … writer Sarah Morgan reveals the funny business that goes on behind the scenes of your favourite shows

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In the recent movie Late Night, Mindy Kaling plays a naive young comedy writer joining the writing team on a late-night US chat show. The staff are exclusively white, male, expensively educated and surly a running gag is that every one uses the womens restroom to defecate because no women work in the office. Kaling, as a perky diversity hire, shakes up the show and drags it into the 21st century. Its a wish fulfilment comedy: what would actually happen, with just one woman or person of colour in the room, is that the lads would carry on being sexist and racist but would then swivel their heads at her like ventriloquist dummies to check that she was cool with it.

US writers rooms have a feral romance to them, as seen in shows such as 30 Rock, which was inspired by Tina Feys real time as head writer on Saturday Night Live, when her male peers would pee into jars on their office window sill and call it sun tea. In the UK, were a little more embarrassed at the idea that comedy is written, and feel it should be hidden away, shamefully and quietly. (When a writing partner and I asked for an office at the BBC in which to write our radio series, we were grudgingly offered The Jill Dando room, an 8ft sq office in TV Centre featuring a King-Kong-at-the-window-scale mural of the tragically murdered TV personality. We laughed. Writers are horrible.)

Recently, ITV announced an initiative to aim for gender-balanced writing teams on its comedy shows, which came as a shock to some people who claim to passionately love comedy but dont know how it is made. People who think Morecambe and Wise came up with all their own material, and Angela Rippon just started doing all that mad stuff with her legs on the day. You know what though? Its sort of OK comedy writers feel deep down we are doing our job properly when you dont know were there, like God. No, not like God: we dont have that level of self-esteem. Were like people who pump out the toilets at music festivals. Thats it. Gag writers are like the portable loo people, quietly keeping your entertainment entertaining. We know that no one at home cares if Simon Cowell is being genuinely spontaneous, or if his quip about David Walliamss trousers was crafted by a sweaty nerd on a 600th of his salary. Were just happy to be in showbiz.

I love my job. Ive worked in more than 50 writers rooms, not including the shows I helped develop that never made it to air. Some days I pinch myself that Im being paid to laugh my head off. On Horrible Histories you get free lectures from historians its like being paid for school, only youre actively encouraged to make fun of the lesson afterwards. Some shows Ive proudly worked on for decades, some were just a fleeting engagement in a production company office that smelled of pizza and ambition. Food is vital to the workings of a writers room. If a producer offers to buy lunch, everyone will immediately order the most expensive thing possible, because comedy writers are tiny children, and also because you know a free lunch means you are working through lunch.

The job has changed a lot in 10 years, but some writers rooms do still feel loud and gladiatorial, as in Late Night. Often in the UK they are dominated by male Oxbridge-educated caucazoids (some of my best friends are male Oxbridge-educated caucazoids, etc, etc). Writers are generally sensitive and insecure. If you put us together in a room we will overcompensate like the advice given to someone on their first day of prison, punch the biggest bloke in the yard.

There was one pop-based panel show writers room so notoriously toxic, the survivors talk as though it has been entombed in concrete like Chernobyl. A half-formed idea would get cut short with a Thats shit or Not funny. The writers assistant would get sent out with a complicated sandwich order and a grave warning that the star would lose his shit if she got the order wrong. (Of course, the sandwich shop didnt exist. She was terrified! Lol!)

Tina
Tina Fey in US sitcom 30 Rock, which was inspired by her time as head writer on Saturday Night Live. Photograph: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

 

These rooms are raptor pits, according to Andy Riley, co-creator of Year of the Rabbit, who has compiled a glossary of writers room terms on his website How to Talk Comedy Writer. There is loads of secret lingo, such as Die-dia (from Kat Sadler), an idea that you feel dying in your mouth the second you start pitching. A bad room will crush a die-dia dead (thats not funny), a good room will toss it around a bit to see what other ideas it shakes out. A die-dia is from the same family as the bad version, which is a much derided term that a higher-up might use when pitching the shape of a joke, but not the joke itself. We need a funny reveal for what the dog is chewing. The bad version is a dildo? I dunno, youre the writers. Honestly, pitching the bad version is actually really useful, but its a thing that producers say so writers make fun of it. We dont often get to feel lofty.

Sam Bain, co-creator of Peep Show, says: Comedy writing rooms should be like improv Yes, and Rather than Thats shit. When a room is good, its heaven, a sort of sexless flirting where colleagues bat ideas back and forth and nothing is off-limits. A certain amount of inappropriateness is actually vital to the health of a room.

Executives who pop in can be startled by the filth and off-topic banter. Its our way of getting to know each other. Jason Hazeley, co-creator of Cunk on Britain, calls this doing scales the practice gags that warm you up for the real work. Ive also heard it called clearing the pipes or getting the poison out. Its not pleasant, but it is funny, if dead-baby jokes before 10am are your thing. Quite why were allowed to get away with this Im not sure, theres no other job where its expected that you need to be appalling before you can do your job properly. Sure Ill bring in this 747, but I just have to snap the legs off this heron first. Its my process.

When the Times Up movement hit Hollywood there was concern that some people wouldnt feel comfortable with the anything goes approach. There was a famous lawsuit where the writers assistant on Friends (the only female and person of colour in the room) sued because of the eye-wateringly inappropriate conversation among the chief writers (including speculations about a female cast members genitalia). The decision went in the shows favour, with the judge referring to the Friends room as a creative workplace focused on generating scripts for an adult-oriented comedy show featuring sexual themes.

Sarah
Ive been in situations where later Ive pondered the weird nature of my employment Sarah Morgan. Photograph: Karla Gowlett

 

Ive never felt unsafe or intimidated at work, but Ive been in situations where later Ive pondered the weird nature of my employment. There was a day in a small room where the head writer delivered a monologue about inserting Cadbury Mini Eggs in the non-traditional orifice of a lady friend. I didnt feel especially harassed (I almost certainly yes and-ed with egg puns) but I cant speak for the young woman whose job it was to sit and take notes all day. Crucially, Im not sure it was a super-productive way to write in-house sketches for the website of a luxury car brand.

While no one wants to think about how the sausage is made, its a fact that most shows have writers rooms panel shows, award shows, sketch shows, topical news shows, a chat show for a popular fake TV judge they are all team written. Though youd be forgiven for not knowing that if you look at the credits. Writers arent much of a thing in comedy, outside sitcoms. They are credited as programme associates (or additional material). Programme associates are the modest heroes thinking of funny captions for a photo of a puffin, or writing questions about Boris Johnsons hair, or coming up with sketch ideas a talk-show host could do based round a giant papier-mache vulva that had been commissioned by the production company for another show but didnt get used. (These are all things that have happened on programmes I have written on, sorry, been associated with.)

But the title may not be around for ever. The Writers Guild of Great Britain is starting a campaign to scrap positions such as programme associate and credit writers for their writing. Writers should always be credited as writers, says Gail Renard, former WGGB chair and member of the guilds comedy committee, or else they stand to lose their residuals, pension contributions, and other payments theyve rightly earned. Why should we be hidden in the shadows like some dark comedy secret?

Well, theres lots of reasons why comedy writers should be kept a dark dirty secret see above but a reluctance to give proper credit isnt one of them.

Late Night is showing in UK cinemas.

 

 

 

 

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