I have distributed this note, below, to the BBC History group...
I have, at last, got hold of and I have read...
Yapp, Nick. 2009. The Write Stuff: A History of the Writers' Guild of Great
Britain 1959-2009. [London]: The Writers' Guild of Great Britain.
I have the pdf in front of me now. Nick Yapp's history was published by the
Writers' Guild in 2009. In a pattern that is familiar to us from our other
lives, when small organisations publish a book, in 2009 the book rapidly
disappeared from sight, and has not had the attention, and the use, it
deserves. You will see variant bibliographic entries for the book - I have
followed what the text says. I think that I give the correct bibliographic
The book is of special interest to the historians of the BBC - the book has
199 references to the BBC in its 239 pages. From its origins in the 1950s,
as the British Screen and Television Writers' Association (BSTWA), the
Writers' Guild has constantly been in negotiation with the BBC, sometimes
friendly negotiation. The BBC was initially a monopoly supplier of radio
and television, and is always a major employer of writers and publisher of
their works. There was also, and is still - as my readers here will be
aware - a constant churn of well-known names, from management within the BBC
and round the culture industries. This needs constant name-checking by the
author, Nick Yapp - he is very good on this, very dogged.
Yapp follows the parts major characters played in various Writers' Guild
encounters with the BBC. Like, the case of Frisby v BBC, 1967 - about the
censorship of one line in a tv play, p 40 onwards, and the Court's
interpretation of the writers contracts, negotiated by BSTWA and the Guild,
with the BBC. Or, Chapter 18, on censorship, p 172 onwards. Then, page 42
onwards, the tendency of BBC commissioners to commission themselves to write
scripts - amongst the significant contributions to the long debate was a
1969 article by Allan Prior (Z Cars, Softy, Softly) called Writers Who Sell
Their Scripts to Themselves, p 44. Or p147, the time that BBC Radio Drama
decided that it was not subject to copyright laws. Ceaseless vigilance,
Note too that the BBC is a major publisher of books, and often displays a
tendency to forget the original writer of a project when a book appears with
a celebrity name on the title page - witness, p 69, the 1975 book based on
the tv series, The Explorers. A recurring problem - again of interest to
historians of the BBC - is the way that the names of writers tend to be left
off the documents that will become historians' sources. Note, p 83, p141,
p147, the disappearance of writers' credits from the pages of the Radio
Times - the Radio Times that has become the source document for the BBC
database, which we all use...
For a working writer the most extraordinary saga is on page 190, when in
2001, the BBC and the trade body of writers' agents came to a secret
agreement to bypass the Guild - a saga that is notably for the way in which
the Guild's representative, Bernie Corbett, held his nerve.
Working writers, like me, also remember the weirdness of the BBC 'virtual internal
market', 1992 onwards, p 148, when it was cheaper for my colleagues within
the BBC to phone me with a query, rather than ask the BBC Library. Paddy,
How long did the Thirty Years War last?
From the history, it seems to me, two things give the Writers' Guild clout -
the involvement of the screenwriters, and the fact that it is a trade union
associated with the TUC. (Though that association was tested by the
Industrial Relations Bill 1970). Nick Yapp pauses, a number of times, to
meditate on the Guild's relationship with the BBC - see 46 '...as the BBC
itself has come under pressure from unfriendly governments and aggressive
media rivals, the Guild has constantly worked to maintain good relations with
Auntie, and to be sympathetic to her problems. At the same time, however, the
Guild has always fought tooth and nail to protect the interests of writers.'
I am an active member of the Writers' Guild, and serve on the Books
Committee of the Guild - where one of our tasks is to bring Nick Yapp's
History up to date. We, in the Guild, and the other creative industries
trade unions, are the experts on the 'gig economy'. As Nick Yapp says, p
190, on new media... 'The new millennium was no place for the unprotected...
...The work of writers could now be exploited in more ways than ever before.
The attempt was made, time and again, to argue that old rules and old
contracts and old rights could not apply to new marketing fields or new
Visiting Professor of Irish Diaspora Studies, London Metropolitan University
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