Broadcasting Online TV Writing

Bringing Charles Endell, Esquire back

Charles Endell

I wrote on this blog, about a month ago, about a project I’ve been working on with Scottish broadcaster STV to bring their television archive to a new audience on YouTube. The last fortnight has seen my first major piece of work come to fruition with the release of 1979’s Charles Endell, Esquire.

Now a footnote in TV history, there’s very little information out there about the creation of the programme or the reasons for its demise, something I wanted to remedy when I joined the team at STV. We knew that the series had only lasted six episodes, but it wasn’t clear whether all episodes were actually screened on UK television – a 1979 ITV union strike took Endell off the air after only two episodes had aired and rumours suggested they remaining four had never been transmitted.

In 1979, Endell was something of a prestige programme for STV, winning a Saturday night slot and a TV Times front cover, so we wanted to treat it with the respect it deserved. I began looking around for members of the cast and crew who might be willing to discuss it, using online discussion forums, Spotlight and personal contacts for information.

In the end I managed to track down series creator, Robert Banks Stewart, actors Tony Osoba and Rohan McCullough and director David Andrews. As Andrews lived locally to the STV studios, we invited him in to be filmed for an hour or so, and he kindly gave us enough material for three new videos, the first of which is now online:


We also decided to create some other new videos to promote the series, with a one minute trailer added to YouTube in October, and a longer compilation, The Wit and Wisdom of Charles Endell, Esquire, joining it shortly after (if you think these are good, you should hear some of the stuff I had to leave out):


Using material gathered from the interviews and other sources, I’ve written a pretty comprehensive overview of the series for the STV website, which touches on the rise and fall of Endell, and, with help from fellow blogger Frank Collins, we’ve also added coverage from the TV Times from 1979.

In fact, Frank has been a huge help in the promotion of the series, not only supplying some details hidden away in old copies of the TV Times, but agreeing to write a comprehensive review of the series for his excellent site, Cathode Ray Tube. Knowing that it’s not enough to simply add six episodes of a series to YouTube and hope for the best, by approaching Frank I hoped he’d be able to add some perspective to the show, the only stipulation being that he didn’t feel pressurised into writing a positive review – he was free to say what he wanted.

Another blogger who accepted the challenge to write something new about an ageing series was Walter Dunlop (who also provided some archive clippings from The Times), owner of the superb Lady Don’t Fall Backwards, while writer and one-time podcaster, William Gallagher, kindly alluded to the release of the series on his now ex-podcast, UK DVD Review. We’ve also been engaging with TV fans on forums such as The Mausoleum Club and Roobarb’s Forum, where we’re getting some great suggestions for other series which could be released from the vaults.

Finally, we were also lucky to have some interest from a Scottish newspaper, The Sunday Mail, journalist Maggie Barry coming into the STV offices a few weeks ago to find out more about this obscure series, before writing about it in last Sunday’s paper.

As of today, we’ve had just over 4,500 views of Endell-related video content, 1,177 for the first episode alone, which went online one week ago today: not bad for a programme forgotten about by most.

It’s been a challenging and exciting few months: being involved in editing videos, interviewing cast and crew, writing the articles and promoting the series has been hugely rewarding. Speaking to Tony Osoba recently, he noted how sad he was in 1980 when he learned the programme wouldn’t be recommissioned: I hope we’ve done him and his colleagues justice with how we’ve treated his show 30 years on.

Watch more Charles Endell, Esquire on YouTube or visit the Charles Endell section of the STV website for more background to the series.

Broadcasting Online Talk Writing

E-copywriting for all your audiences: AmbITion talk now online

On Thursday I headed to Glasgow to give the talk mentioned here a few weeks ago, Now you’re talking! – e-copywriting for all your audiences for the busy team behind the AmbITion network.

The presentation aimed to answer the question of whether content for websites should be written for different audiences, in different styles. To summarise, the answer has to be yes…and no.

Yes, we need to keep different audiences in mind when putting together a new website, and that content should be placed in sections which mean something to them. But at the same time we need to be wary about varying our tone of voice on different pages as this can be confusing.

I suggested that the main company site remains consistent but that different audiences can be reached across different platforms, with Twitter and Facebook two places that allow the tone of voice of the company to shine through.

The full talk is available on the AmbITion site now:

Ambition talk

Thanks again to Hannah and her team for inviting me to speak and the audience for listening so patiently for almost an hour.

Broadcasting Film Writing

Busy behind-the-scenes

The last time I posted an update on this blog I was recovering from a hectic week of Festival fun and games here in Edinburgh, that time of the year when the population doubles and your bank balance halves.

Since then it’s been even busier, with a new piece of work looking like it’s going to take up a few months of my time. I’ll be able to write about it in more detail in the next week or two, but it’s an exciting one which utilises a number of my skills and interests.

Elsewhere, following my column in the Edinburgh Evening News which wondered why Sir Sean Connery’s 80th birthday was all but ignored, I discovered the existence of a short film made by Sean in 1982, one which now resides in the Scottish Screen Archive. My review of Sean Connery’s Edinburgh was in last week’s paper and is on the Evening News website.

I also ventured out-of-town to the rather wonderful Bo’ness Hippodrome cinema last weekend, to hear The Southwell Collective perform their music to 1928’s The Fall of the House of Usher. I’m a sucker for a silent movie with live music and this was one of the best – I took some time to interview the musicians after their performance:

Audioboo Southwell Collective

I’m finding my time on Twitter and other social networks slightly reduced at the moment as the days jobs take up my time, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Much as I love keeping up-to-date on the world around me in 140 characters or less, it can be overwhelming at times, particularly when you need to concentrate on the 9-to-5.

Broadcasting Film Writing

A week of video, radio and a few heroes

It’s been a busy week-and-a-bit, my first working fully freelance, and one which found me filming new content for ReelScotland, interviewing a hero, writing about another and gaining yet another in the environs of the Edinburgh International Book Festival (EIBF).

Last Saturday I headed to Glasgow’s Collectormania event at the Braehead Arena, a chance to top up on geekiness (my levels are actually never too low) and see what’s happening in the world of movies, comics and TV. I also wanted to interview the producers of a new Scottish science fiction movie, Night is Day, which I’d been reading about.

While the harsh light of the arena wasn’t exactly flattering and lack of tripod meant it was a tad shaky, I think it’s turned out OK, and the full article is up on ReelScotland:


On Sunday I finally managed to catch-up with the musical genius that is Neil Brand, one of the world’s foremost silent movie accompanists, who was in Edinburgh for the weekend having played at the Cameo cinema on Thursday evening, when I was out of town. I’d already published a short interview with Neil on ReelScotland, conducted by email, but this was a chance to meet him in the flesh.

Tuesday found me back in the offices of Civic, where I spend one day a week as a Digital Editor, this week mainly working on analysing clients’ websites and seeing what changes might be needed content or navigation-wise.

Wednesday was meant to be a flying visit to the EIBF, with an event at 2pm called Story Machines: Movies, part of a mini-festival hosted by writer, Charlie Fletcher. This brought together scriptwriter/novelists William Nicholson and Don Boyd in a fascinating discussion on the pitfalls of writing for cinema and the joys of writing your own books. Both do seem to love cinema, but the fact that over 50% of all work fails to make the cinema screen was disheartening to them. It was a lively, insightful and thought-provoking event, perhaps the best I’ve seen at the EIBF.

I ended up staying for another talk, Story Machines: Games, featuring three fascinating panelists in the shape of Steven Poole, Naomi Alderman and Trevor Byrne, which looked at the potential and successes/failures of the gaming world in embracing storytelling. I’m keen to get back into the world of gaming after a number of years away from it, and this was a decent primer.

The final part of the day was spent at Story Machines: The Last Chapter, which brought William Nicholson back to the stage alongside comics legend, Alan Moore.

Theories of psychology and religion were sent forth into the rapt audience by Moore, Nicholson occasionally interjecting as Charlie Fletcher sat between the pair. By the end of the panel I was filled with enthusiasm for the creative process, Moore’s insistence that anyone who has an idea or ambition should just get on with making it a reality hitting home with many of us.

After writing a post for ReelScotland celebrating the career of Sir Sean Connery on his birthday, (he was 80 that day), I sent off my column to the Edinburgh Evening News which asked why Edinburgh doesn’t see the need to mark the occasion when other cities go out of their way to erect statues to their favourite sons or daughters. I’ve also recorded an audioboo on the same subject:

Sean Connery boo

Finally (I warned you it was a busy week) I was invited back onto BBC Radio Scotland’s Movie Café on Thursday to discuss the return of Avatar to cinemas and the release of Edinburgh-set The Illusionist. It was a short-but-sweet chat and good fun, and you can hear the programme on iPlayer for the next few days:

BBC iPlayer

In amongst all that there were a few meetings, a bit of planning for the coming weeks, and a visit to the always worthwhile Edinburgh Coffee Morning. There are a few interesting projects brewing around the subject of content creation which I hope to be able to write about soon.

Broadcasting Film Writing

BBC Radio Scotland Movie Café


I was invited back onto BBC Radio Scotland’s weekly Movie Café programme this week (I was last on in January when I covered Bristol’s silent film festival, Slapstick 2010) to discuss the re-release of James Cameron’s Avatar and Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist.

While I was based in the Edinburgh studio, host Janice Forsyth and fellow critic Paul Gallagher were over in Glasgow, and we discussed our generally negative reactions to Avatar returning to cinemas, with around eight more minutes of footage weaved into the narrative, and our love of the more traditional, Scottish made, The Illusionist.

I’d strolled along to the BBC Studios through the Grassmarket and up Victoria Street, the latter playing a prominent part of the stunning film which makes the city appear almost fairytale-esque. I’d already covered The Illusionist premiere back in June for the Edinburgh Evening News, and ReelScotland, but it was nice to air those views on the radio with fellow enthusiasts.

The programme is available on iPlayer until Thursday 26 August.


Is there a future in writing for websites?

This past week saw me being asked to contribute to an online feature looking at the perceived importance placed on writing for the web, mainly by companies looking to create a new website or improve an existing one.

It’s a subject that’s clearly close to my heart, as writing and editing, particularly for websites, is both my passion and how I earn my living, so I was keen to give my views. Whether or not my comments end up in the finished piece, I thought I’d elaborate on how I view the future of writing for websites and online.

Having worked in the online world since 2001, I’ve seen theories on how to write for the web fluctuate every few years. The early fondness for simply taking existing content from brochures or print documents and slapping it on a web page has, thankfully, been replaced by a recognition that reading online is different to print, and that it’s not always best to just copy and paste from one medium to another.

Those of us who spend time crafting copy for websites – it’s a bit more than the “take the original content, halve it and halve it again” rule that gets bandied about – are aware that we can lose readers quickly if we misjudge the tone or length of a piece of text and that a longer piece of writing isn’t always a bad thing.

Where  the problem often arises is that when the costing for a new website is totted up and all the factors such as design, build, testing and hosting are factored in, writing is often seen as a nice to have rather than a vital part of the mix.

My own theory is that because the majority of us have MS Word, or some variant, on our computers, but fewer of us have a need for Photoshop, there’s a mystery to the creative side of websites that just isn’t there when it comes to writing.

Most of us compile reports, write agendas or compose emails on a daily basis, so what’s so difficult about writing a few paragraphs of text for the new website? Surely it’s cheaper to get the student placement to draft up a few paragraphs than pay for a professional to do it?

Well, yes, doing anything in-house is usually going to be cheaper. I know of a large organisation who left the initial design of their logo to a girl in the secretarial team who was paid nothing for it, only for the redesign a few years later to cost a few thousands pounds when handed to an external agency.

While the original did the job but was never thought of that highly, the revised version became a well-respected – and much copied – brand that could be used across print and online and seen worldwide.

The fact that much of what we read online is free these days – The Times excluded – is another factor in the perceived lack of value attributed to writing. I have mixed views on paywalls and paying for content, and think that it’s going to be an exciting area for discussion over the next 12 months – I’d recommend this piece from The Guardian for more on the subject – but I do wonder if the free culture has led to online writers being devalued.

I understand that a website’s design is vital in making a good impression on its users, and that hiring an agency or freelancer to provide the look is a fact of life for most businesses. However, if the words on the website are riddled with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and the odd factual inaccuracy, what faith does the reader have that the organisation behind it is any better? Why would they bother to come back?

Investing in high quality writing for the web doesn’t have to cost a fortune but it is something that’s worth investing in right at the start of a project. A decent writer will be able to suggest ways to get the most from a tight budget that don’t compromise the finished product.

I also like to take the time to look behind the scenes of a website once the content has been written and published to see how users are responding to it, using free tools such as Google Analytics to find out what’s being read and for how long. Text can then be tweaked if necessary and for a website owner this could be a way to ensure their investment in writing isn’t just a one-off payment with no tangible results, but the start of a longer process.

Could bundling content creation and analysis into the final cost of a project be one way forward? Does an online copywriter owe it to their client to view the project as a longer term contract rather than just a one-off job, in a way that those writing for print don’t? Or should the writer’s job start and end with what’s on the page?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.


To Boo or not to Boo

This year, for the second year running, I was lucky enough to be able to cover the Edinburgh International Film Festival as a journalist, partly freelancing for the Edinburgh Evening News and partly for my own blog,

While the paper asked me to write a daily blog, I also decided to toy with the rather nifty AudioBoo iPhone app, which I decided I would use to record reviews straight after screenings before I could get to the nearest wi-fi spot with my laptop.

Anyone who’s ever tried to see a large number of films at a film festival (I managed around 26 over the course of 11 days) will know that great plans can be ruined by a lack of time and tiredness.

My Booing (yes, that sounds ridiculous to me as well) didn’t go quite as planned – in total I recorded four reviews.

Still, undeterred, I’ve recently tried to get back into the swing of audio reviews/features. Recently, after uncovering some strange goings on with the new DVD release of a classic Scottish film That Sinking Feeling, I recorded some Boos – Bill Forsyth blethers and That Syncing Feeling – to show how the soundtracks differed between the Scottish and American versions.

I’ve already had a few comments about these via Twitter and I can see the power they might have compared to a blog post of a few hundred words. Like any audio review, the point can be made quickly and simply in just a few minutes, with reviews of plays and films available almost instantly.

It’s probably too early to say how PR companies feel about audio reviews compared to written ones. I’ve not yet tried to review a film, play or DVD only via AudioBoo but I’m tempted to try it soon.

One of the main problems is where the Boos are located. My Boos are instantly uploaded as a tweet on my Twitter account where my 400+ followers can see it.

I can also embed it to my blog in a post and should be able to see who clicks through to the review on there.

If I choose to I can have the Boo automatically uploaded to Facebook, Posterous, Tumblr and FriendFeed, but I haven’t yet.

One of the most interesting features of AudioBoo is that it automatically creates a feed in iTunes, meaning I’m now effectively recording a podcast. As I’ve never had the time to record anything for iTunes this is a nifty little feature and I’m going to spend time in the next few weeks looking at how I can exploit it further.

The question remains however: would a series of AudioBoos be as well regarded as a 500 word review? Radio has been doing it for years, and my own monthly slot on Leith FM seems to be good enough for PR companies, though that’s a “proper” radio station, not some fly-by-night web application thingy.

Are there any PR folk or writers/reviewers reading this who see audio-only reviews as being just as valid as written ones? Your thoughts are welcome.

Film Writing

An introduction

Writing is my passion.

Luckily, working for a small Edinburgh web design agency with various high-profile clients, I’m able to write (and edit, film, blog, tweet…you name it, I probably do it) every day, covering a range of subjects including health issues, education, tourism, charity work and the arts.

A few years ago, alongside my 9-5 work, I decided to start blogging, previewing and reviewing some of the most exciting arts and entertainment events taking place in my home city while also taking a look at television old and new.

Of course blogging has its pitfalls.

In the past, anyone who wrote, edited and published their own work, avoiding the traditional process of having an editor commission and comment on their work, was dubbed a “vanity publisher”.

This is also the danger of blogging. While I’m well aware that there are plenty of of us doing an excellent job outwith the strict confines of larger organisations, advertisers and editors, there’s still a perception among many people that bloggers aren’t “proper” writers or journalists.

Wary of only publishing my own work and following occasional articles for university newspaper Veritas and a regular film blog for local arts magazine The Skinny, 2008 saw the Edinburgh Evening News invite me to cover the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

This was followed by theatre, music and comedy reviewing during the rest of the year for the paper.

Now, with a weekly film column in the Evening News reaching around 50,000 readers a week alongside regular DVD, theatre and book reviewing for my old Veritas editor at the Pink Paper, my writing is reaching a wider audience and my ambitions are growing daily.

I’ve also record a monthly film slot on local radio station Leith FM and a new blog has spun-off from my Evening News column.

I plan to write irregular columns for this blog covering online communications and freelance writing.

I hope you enjoy the site and come back again to see what I’ve been up to.