Getting It Right

I haven’t been watching ‘The Hour’, the Beeb’s recent 1950s drama, set in a current affairs show (it looked like my kind of thing, to be honest, but I was never around. Busy, busy…!).

Anyway*, I was interested to see that the writer, Abi Morgan has been criticised in the press for using anachronisms in the script (phrases like ‘bottled out’ and ‘note to self’ – which just weren’t around in that era).

In her response to The Independent she holds her hands up to the accusation but excuses herself with, “But I’m a dramatist. I elaborate. I imagine.”

What do you think about that? I think … well, a word that any polite blog shouldn’t contain. Perhaps I’m a pedant (or just jealous. ‘Abi Morgan’ sounds very young.. what is she doing writing dramas for the BBC?!) but anything like that which jars and pulls me out of the story, irritates me at best and makes me switch for the ‘off’ button/close the book, at worst. They did it in the ‘80s TV series ‘Ashes To Ashes’ when the characters said things like ‘Oh, get a room!’ (I was around in the ‘80s and believe me, we did not say, ‘Get a room!’).

As writers, if we’re setting something in the past, it’s our job to get the facts right. And that, as far as I’m concerned, includes the dialogue.

*on the subject of dialogue, my friend told me last night that ‘anyway’ is my favourite word! Apparently I use it all the time and here I am, using it in my blog!! Note to self: STOP!

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10 Responses to Getting It Right

  1. I haven’t seen ‘The Hour’ either but using anachronisms that are not from the era stand out and spoil things. We had a discussion about this at the Book Club I go to as the book we’d read seemed to contain words/phrases that would not have been used. In this instance the book was a translation and this may have accounted for it, but even so it jars. As writers we are all told to get our facts right so how can Abi Morgan brush this off so lightly?

  2. Keith Havers says:

    I have been watching ‘The Hour’ and, while I’ve enjoyed it, there have been some parts that just haven’t rung true. I know writers have to use some licence when dramatising events from the past otherwise parts of it would be unintelligible. But I agree with you. If something is obviously going to be out of place then it should be avoided.

  3. There’s a difference between having an imagination and getting something wrong. I hte being pulled out of a story by something that just doesn’t seem to fit.

  4. I agree with you on this Helen. I read about the up to date sayings, so I haven’t watched it as that’s useless. If we did that it would get sent straight back with, ‘not appropriate language’ written across it. Details are so important aren’t they. John Sullivan was good at getting the details right with his ‘rock and chips’ episodes.

  5. Details like a question mark after they. ?? oops.

  6. Susan, thanks for your comment! (and don’t worry about the question mark – I assumed there was one there!). I didn’t see John Sullivan’s ‘Rock and Chips’ but I would have liked to. He was a great comedy writer, who sadly died too young.

  7. Alice says:

    I love Philippa Gregory’s novels (especially the ones based in the Tudor era). I went to see her speak a few years ago and she talked at some length about getting your details right for the era. Whilst she regularly invents stories about real life people, details like fashion and convention really should be correct. Having said that, I guess she does modernise her language quite a bit though I’m sure she wouldn’t use phrases that simply didn’t exist!
    Very interesting post.

  8. Alice – I can kind of ‘forgive’ writers who are setting stories in the dim and distant past – like Tutor times – for not sticking rigidly to the way people would have spoken. I’m sure if they wrote as people in those times really spoke it would be almost unintelligible to the modern reader, so I think they’re allowed some poetic licence! (Or we’d never finish the book!). Although, the novelist Sarah Waters deliberately doesn’t go any further back than Victorian times with her novels because, after that, as she said in a talk I went to, you have to start grappling with ‘ye’ and ‘thou’ – so she clearly takes the matter of how people really spoke, quite seriously. My gripe is more with stories set in more recent times, when lazy writers just throw in phrases and words that have only just come into use.

  9. Alice says:

    Oh yes, I totally agree. To me, it just says that they didn’t do their research properly!

    I’ve also seen Sarah Waters speak and was amazed by how much research she does. She talked about novels from the 1950s (when she was researching for The Little Stranger), that are now out of print! I was very impressed if a little overwhelmed.

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