18th August 2014. The date of the first document I wrote regarding resurrecting Cold Feet.
19th January 2016. The date when the cast assembled in London to read through the first two scripts of the new series.
That’s 17 months of writing and rewriting. And more rewriting. And then some. And then some more. (You get the picture.) No wonder I spent much of last Tuesday wandering about with an inane (insane?) grin on my face. I couldn’t fully believe this day had arrived.
It was terrific to see the cast together again. Well, not quite the whole cast. Helen Baxendale was a notable absentee as (spoiler alert) we’d killed her character off in the penultimate episode. I was recently asked in an interview whether, with Cold Feet returning, I now regret having done that. And although Helen is sorely missed, the answer has to be no. Because it was Rachel’s untimely death (in a crash while changing the cassette in her car stereo – yes, a cassette, not even a CD!), that, I think, is a major part of the reason we’re back. Because had Cold Feet not ended on such a high (ratings wise – 10 million or so) I doubt there’d be such an appetite for its return.
So, no Helen. It felt like puttin’ the band back together, without one key member. New Order without Hooky. Although not as acrimonious, obviously. Earlier this week I heard Jimmy Nesbitt (James to you) say on The Chris Evans Show that getting together with the rest of the cast felt weird, because it seemed like all of three weeks that they’d been apart. I has the same feeling. It was like ‘hi’, hug, and pick up where we left off. (The only difference was the preponderance of reading glasses.)
But weirder still was how well everyone looked. I’d worried it might be a bit Last Of The Summer Wine, but they look great. Older obviously, but trim, fit, healthy.
I wondered whether time had been as kind to me, but knew better than to ask.
So there we all were, not in the usual location for a read-through, a characterless rehearsal room or windy church hall, but amid the wood-panelled splendour of the British Academy. I’m not sure what the Academy is, but I can tell you this – it’s posh, with views over London’s Pall Mall. The production must have got a deal. (I hope we did or the location catering is going to be a couple of limp sandwiches.) I was glad I’d chosen to wear a jacket and not my usual writer’s mufti, a combination of shabby chic (98% shabby, 2% chic).
Ostensibly, read-throughs are an opportunity for the director, producer, writer, cast, heads of department (costume, hair and make-up, design etc) and, most significantly (cos they’re paying the bills) the network, to hear, for the first time, the script ‘on its feet’. This is supposed to give everyone a sense of what’s working, what could do with tweaking, and what doesn’t live up to expectations.
As a writer, I’ve never looked forward to a read-through. I mean, where’s the upside for me? The best that I can hope for is that they won’t want to change any of my finely-crafted, well-chosen words. And not once in the history of television has that happened. So there I sat, next to Terry McDonagh, our Liverpudlian director (whose previous credits include Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and Suits – all of which I’m still in awe of), my buttocks clenched, praying that this wouldn’t be too painful. Beyond Terry sat our producer, Rebecca Ferguson, who’s even younger than I was the first time we did Cold Feet, natch. I suspected Rebecca had put Terry between us so I couldn’t see the notes she was scribbling. (Hey! Even the paranoid are right sometimes.)
And you know what? It couldn’t have gone better. Hearing Adam and Pete bantering again, David still not quite getting it, and Jenny and Karen, as always, a half-step ahead of the lads – it was a joy. The audience were engaged throughout, laughed in all the right places, and appeared moved when they were meant to be. Now, I’m not so smug to think that this means anything. There’s an old adage in the theatre that a disastrous dress rehearsal often precedes a great opening night. Well, I fear the opposite. But at least we all feel that we’re starting from a good place.
I’m not going to reveal any detail of the scripts (I haven’t put this much effort in to jeopardise the impact of my own work), but I think I’m allowed to reveal that one of the guests joining the cast this year is James Bolam. Most recently James (to you and me) did a long stint in New Tricks. He’s probably still best remembered for The Likely Lads, but the reason I was so excited that he’s joining our cast was The Beiderbecke Trilogy, three comedy dramas written by Alan Plater in the mid 1980s. Beiderbecke (which also starred the wonderful Barbara Flynn) was one of the reasons I dreamt of becoming a TV writer. It was perfect television. Full of warmth, wit, and heart. I felt honoured to hear James read my lines aloud.
After the read-through, we had the dreaded notes meeting. Two and a quarter hours had been set aside for this. (As I’d earlier confided to a member of the script team, “If they’ve that many notes, there’s gonna be blood on the walls. And it won’t all be mine.”) Now, credit where it’s due. And at this point, credit to Steve November and Victoria Fea (respectively Director and Controller of ITV Drama) because not only were their notes few (my favourite number) but they were good, and will only make the scripts better. And I’m not saying that cos I’m a kiss-ass. (I’m not just saying it for that reason…)
So, the first major hurdle has been overcome. We’ve reached base camp. A couple of minor tweaks, a little polishing here, some buffing there and we will be ready for the start of shooting on Monday February 1st. When everything suddenly gets way more serious.