Saturday, 20 June 2009

Cat Fight

Bill Mitchell - The Man Who Wrestled Pumas... Probably went out on Radio 4 on Thursday and seems to have gone down quite well, you can catch it still on the iPlayer for the next 5 days. Use this link with realplayer if you're outside the UK. Yesterday it spent a little time as the most popular BBC radio factual show on there, which says something or other- possibly that people like factual shows but not so much the ones about big important world changing facts.

The show garnered quite a bit of publicity. There were a couple of nice trailers that were played out regularly, and I'm told promotion by Steve Wright on Radio 2. In print there was a little article in the Radio Times featuring Bill looking across the page towards the I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue article and preview pieces in The Guardian, Observer, Times and Telegraph. All were terrifyingly positive, bar The Times wishing as an aside that there could have been more archive in the show. Those of us involved wished that as well, with there being a couple of pieces it was frustrating not to be able to feature in the end.

Response seems to have been pretty positive too. Googling around, people on messageboards, Twitter and so on seems to reveal general enthusiasm and The Guardian ran a glowing review of the show on Friday.

Amazingly, the one question I've been dreading (bar where's your writers credit- answer, mainly right here- Radio 4 isn't obliged to offer them on these kind of shows) has only come up once, when a friend asked 'Wrestled pumas? In what sense wrestled pumas?'
Ah. Well, lovely title isn't it? In this sense...

Initially, the documentary was pitched as someone, possibly even me unless Radio 4 felt a star narrator was needed, learning about Bill.
To accompany my initial pitch I'd located an audio interview with him, a good obituary and a few CDs with some lovely DJ sound bytes and out-takes that we were sadly unable to clear for broadcast but best of all was a tantalising entry on Bill in an old book on advertising The Tuppenny Punch and Judy Show, under his photo the caption claimed-
"Once he wrestled pumas now he caresses words"

Because it was clear that Bill had told a number of tall and colourful tales about his life as he developed his hard man persona, this seemed a good hook. Was this true, or just Bill making extravagant claims?
One of the ideas was we'd ask interviewees if they knew anything about this. The result could be a montage telling us 'Definitely, in Madrid in 1962' or something, 'I've no idea', 'rings a vague bell', 'wouldn't be surprised' or 'no'. Except it didn't really work out that way, and once it was decided a proper celebrity narrator who'd known Bill was needed, the journey of discovery idea gave way to straight biography and I wrote the script to serve Bill's life story, the archive we knew we could use and the interviews producer Paul Hardy had put together. The cliffhanger of whether Bill had wrestled pumas or not was left, well not so much hanging as unraised beyond the title... I did suggest that we might retitle the show Bill Mitchell- the Man Who Didn't Have to Try... Too Hard but hang it all- 'Wrestled Pumas' that's brilliant isn't it?

If you do want a definite answer on whether Bill puma-wrestled or not, I can tell you that in the course of making the programme we came to firmly believe that he did.


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