I was saddened to read about the death of the comedy titan, Mel Smith. News of his passing reminded me of the occasion when my path crossed with his. Today, I recall those memories with mixed emotions.
At the time, I was head of marketing at Carlton TV. I had commissioned a series of commercials which were intended to extol the benefits of TV advertising. Having assigned the project to a talented director, I really should have taken a step back and let him do his work unhindered.
With hindsight, I clearly found it difficult to fully delegate responsibility. As an erstwhile copywriter, I naturally felt that I could ‘add value’ by critiquing the scripts. When I learnt that Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones had been booked to read the voice-over, the urge to ‘help’ was irresistible.
I tampered and fiddled with the script, right up to the day of recording. By the time the duo arrived at the studio, the director must have been royally sick of my meddling. So, in a canny move that I have since grown to admire, prior to the VO session, he printed out two versions of the script. One copy was his original draft and one of my ‘improved’ version. In the privacy of a sound-proofed basement, he colluded with the stars, seeking their support. They playfully obliged, or at least Mel did…
After the recording, I received by courier a copy of the final scripts.
Griff and Mel’s professional assessment was scribbled on the bottom of my version…
“Sorry Matt – This is crap!” wrote Mel.
Although I took some comfort from the fact that Griff had offered his support for my draft, I was quietly embarrassed by the whole affair. The end result was a really brilliant ad – but one in which I had not written.
My ego was bruised.
It was some years later before I was eventually able to feel proud of the commercial, realising that I had contributed to its success. Not as the writer but as the guy who’d hired a great director.
A valuable lesson. No-one likes a micro-manager.