The time I came runner-up in a BBC sitcom award (part 1)

In 2002, aged 21, I was waiting in a queue at HMV when I spotted a booklet at the tills for BBC Talent. It was an initiative designed to find new writing and presenting talent, and one of the contests was a comedy scriptwriting competition: the BBC Talent New Sitcom Writers’ Award.

I thought I was pretty funny, but had never written a script in my life. The BBC wanted applicants to send in the first few pages of a sitcom script, but I didn’t have one. Fine, I thought, with characteristic 21-year-old chutzpah: I’ll write one! I’d had a good run of luck in the previous few years – winning Miss Harrow and getting a First in my degree – and so I told myself it was worth entering, even if I didn’t get through.

I’d been staying with my religious Asian grandparents in Leicester the previous year. They’d had an arranged marriage when my nan was just 19, and I wondered what it would have been like to be forced to have one myself. Though it might not immediately seem like an ideal subject for a sitcom, I thought the idea of rebelling against such a marriage had comic potential. I’d considered writing about this idea since staying with my grandparents, but had been finishing my degree and hadn’t done anything about it.

I therefore began to create a family of sitcom characters. But I told myself I couldn’t write about a Zoroastrian family like my mum’s, ’cause who the hell had ever heard of Zoroastrians? Every time I mentioned being Zoroastrian to someone, they either asked ‘What-Austrian?’ or made a joke about Zorro!

So I decided to write about a different Asian religion, mainly so I could make a daft pun. My main character, a Punjabi girl called Leila, was a feminist who hated men (forgive me, fellow feminists, but I was young). She was being wooed by a builder called Darren Hyde, for the sole reason that I could then call my sitcom Hyde and Sikh. Again, I can only apologise…

Me mirror.jpg

Anyhow, the premise each episode was that Leila’s parents would set her up with an Asian suitor, in the hopes that she would agree to an arranged marriage with him. She would then team up with the besotted and unreconstructed English builder Darren in order to scare off the suitor.

So I wrote the script according to the online template the BBC had provided. I found it again in the deepest recesses of my hard drive, and here it is!

HYDE & SIKH

Episode 1: ‘A Hairy Situation’

OUTLINE

Sassy Sikh girl verbally outwits besotted builder, parents and potential husbands alike.

SYNOPSIS

Leila Kaur is a 25-year-old Sikh solicitor living in Newark with her parents, who are trying to find her a suitable husband. Unfortunately Leila thinks men are pathetic, a view compounded by her biggest admirer Darren Hyde – an English builder who lives down her road. Darren is totally infatuated with Leila, and makes it his mission to intercept and thwart all the suitors who come to visit her.

SCENE 1: INT. LEILA’S HOUSE, 48 WARWICK STREET (MORNING)

LEILA COMES INTO THE KITCHEN, DRESSED READY FOR WORK. HER PARENTS ARE HAVING BREAKFAST. LEILA POURS HERSELF A GLASS OF WATER AND STARTS DRINKING IT.

LEILA’S DAD: (STRONG INDIAN ACCENT)

Hello my sweet flower. You are looking very beautiful this morning. How are you today?

LEILA: (SUSPICIOUSLY)

What do you want?

DAD: (SMILING)

I have some good news.

LEILA: (DRYLY)

Don’t tell me – you’re finally starting to understand the jokes on Goodness Gracious Me?

DAD: (SHAKING HIS HEAD AND ROLLING HIS EYES)

Nay. (GRINS SLYLY AND PROUDLY) I… have found a man.

LEILA: (COUGHING, SHOCKED)

Blimey. You’re having a midlife crisis? Don’t worry, it’s cool with me.

LEILA’S MUM (MRS. KAUR) IS SMILING AND NODDING IN HER WHEELCHAIR.

MUM: (IN A VERY STRONG INDIAN ACCENT)

Very nice man.

LEILA:

And Mum seems okay with it.

LEILA’S DAD LOOKS VERY SHOCKED AND BEWILDERED, AND THUMPS THE TABLE.

DAD:

No! I have found a man, for you!

LEILA CHOKES ON HER GLASS OF WATER, SPILLING IT EVERYWHERE.

LEILA: (SPLUTTERING)

What? Well… well you can just go and put him back where you found him! I’ve told you since I was thirteen, you’re not arranging anything with me. Goodbye!

SHE GRABS HER COAT AND STORMS OUT OF THE HOUSE, SLAMMING THE FRONT DOOR. HER DAD RUSHES AFTER HER AND REOPENS THE DOOR.

DAD: (YELLING)

Leila, come back here now!

SCENE 2: EXT. THE BUS STOP, WARWICK STREET (DAY)

LEILA STOMPS OUT OF HER HOUSE AND SITS ON THE BENCH AT THE BUS STOP A FEW DOORS DOWN. SIMULTANEOUSLY, DARREN HYDE STROLLS OUT OF HIS OWN HOUSE, WHISTLING, AND DOES A DOUBLE TAKE WHEN HE SEES LEILA. HE COMES AND SITS AT THE OTHER END OF THE BENCH, STILL GAWPING AT HER. LEILA TAKES ONE LOOK AT HIS SCRAGGY VEST, PAINT-SPATTERED CLOTHES AND LEER, AND MOVES RIGHT TO THE END OF THE SEATING ARRANGEMENT.

DARREN(WOLFWHISTLING)

Cor!

LEILA GIVES HIM A DISPARAGING LOOK.

DARREN:

Asian babe!

LEILA:

Earth is full. Go home.

DARREN LOOKS A BIT SHOCKED, THEN REGAINS HIS COMPOSURE.

DARREN:

Nah, they don’t have anyone as fit as you there.

LEILA:

No, not if you’re anything to go by.

DARREN LOOKS INDIGNANT, AND PUFFS HIMSELF UP.

DARREN:

I’m the sexiest bloke in Newark, I am.

LEILA:

Which reminds me, I must relocate.

DARREN:

And I own my own company.

LEILA:

Then why don’t you keep your own company?

DARREN:

I’m an entrepreneur, me. I have to make crucial decisions every day.

LEILA:

Let me guess: Daily Star or Daily Sport?

DARREN SIGHS, LOOKING PUT OUT.

DARREN:

You’re not impressed then?

LEILA:

How many times am I going to have to flush before you’ll go away?

DARREN:

Okay, okay, but just tell me one thing – where are you from?

LEILA: (GESTICULATING TO THEIR SURROUNDINGS)

What does it look like?

DARREN:

No, I mean really from.

LEILA: (ROLLING HER EYES)

Newark, you imbecile.

DARREN:

Right, yeh. It’s just that you’re so beautiful and exotic, and Newark, well… Newark’s the only town in England that’s an anagram of ‘wanker.’

LEILA:

You must feel very much at home.

DARREN: (SOUNDING HURT)

Come on, I was only asking.

LEILA: (RELENTING)

My family originate from the Punjab. I’m Sikh.

DARREN: (LOOKING HER UP AND DOWN)

You look alright to me.

LEILA STANDS UP TO SEE IF THE BUS IS COMING (CLOSE-UP ON EMPTY STREET), THEN SIGHS AND SITS DOWN AGAIN. 

DARREN(HOPEFULLY)

I heard a good Asian joke the other day.

LEILA: (SARCASTICALLY)

Now let’s see, would that be the one about the Asian lesbian called Mingita? Or the one about Asian people being so bad at football because every time they get a corner, they build a shop?

DARREN:

Nah, don’t worry love – I’m sexist, not racist.  I’m Darren by the way, of Darren Hyde Construction. I just moved into number 72, so you could say I’m right up your street.

LEILA:

Right up my nose, more like.

THE BUS COMES AND LEILA RAISES HER HAND TO STOP IT.

DARREN:

Wait… can I see you again?

LEILA:

Sure. Let me see, are you free…. never?

SHE FLICKS HER HAIR BACK HAUGHTILY AND GETS ON THE BUS.

Continued in Part 2 tomorrow…

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 35

Me: 12st 5lbs (total loss in 35 days: 9.2lbs)

I fell so far off the wagon last night that it rolled away into the distance. This week is a write-off dietwise – I have a book launch, lunch with a publisher and endless treats in the house for the eight-year-old. Will do much better soon.

John: 14st 3.25lbs (total loss in 35 days: 4.25lbs)

Go John!

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4 thoughts on “The time I came runner-up in a BBC sitcom award (part 1)”

  1. I imagine, after reading this, BBC Studios will announce – totally coincidentally – that they have recently been developing a sitcom idea called “Smith & Sikh” about an English bloke and a Zoroastrian girl in Leicester.

  2. I considered trying to write a sitcom about three London wide boys called ‘Mike, me ‘n Arfur’… I know, that’s pun-ishing.

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