In Conversation With Ashley Pharaoh

Ashley Pharoah writer, producer and creator of numerous TV series including ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ gave us an in-depth and honest account of his career to date and his current work and new series ‘Eternal Law’.

Training at the NFTS he was at first reluctant to take work in TV, especially soap writing because of the attitude he’d inherited which biased him toward film as being more artistic. Five years with little money however encouraged him to give it a try and not only did he find that it was more than useful to be able to write regularly and see the work performed, strengthening his craft through production, but he had produced credits and a career to prove to his family that he was succeeding in his chosen profession.

From those beginnings and after a number of years on Eastenders, he went on to write for other well known TV Dramas, until he eventually began creating his own shows.

In terms of getting his own creations made he says that he doesn’t do Show Bible’s as he finds them to be difficult documents both to write and to read. And while some writers do still use them he never does. In pitching the ideas he says that you must, in a sentence be able to to put across the concept for a show in a way that puts across the idea that it has endless potential for conflict.

Always bothered by the idea that TV is seen as social realism and that film was viewed as more poetic and he has tried to bring high concept into his TV work as Dennis Potter often did. Television writers have a lot more influence over the shows they produce but he finds film is far less writer-centric and he both dislikes the way writers are treated with the significance of a cleaner in film finding it baffling that film directors and producers would not use his extensive experience to the film’s advantage. TV writing is therefore more fun and given the trend for current cinema more intricate and containing more craft than a lot of movies these days. And a decent living can be made from TV writing, but it’s important not to become complacent or lazy, it takes more than talent to succeed.

Ashleigh finds Genre and structure a help when writing, comparing it to writing writing a sonnet, that the rules of the structure help the writing a great deal. However sometimes you need to let a show die, when it’s run it’s course. He went on to speak about moving on from ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ and not really wanting to do those again, he went on to speak about the transfer of ‘Life on Mars’ to the US and that having not contracted the original writers to consult on the series they were free to adapt it into a longer seasoned US show without really having the expertise of the original creators involved to keep it on track, therefore it did less well than in the UK. He’s since formed a writers company with his writing partner, not so much a production company but one that holds the rights to their work, that way if any future work goes to the US he can arrange to be as involved as he wants to be in the development of it.

Speaking of series writers and the people he employs on writing teams Ashley said it’s not all about talent. It’s also a great deal about being able to sit in a room with someone over long periods and be able to like each other and have a laugh. In terms of his writing partnership with Matthew Graham they split up the writing according to their individual strengths, something that works well for series television.

His new series ‘Eternal Law’ is currently in production and despite his proven and excellent track record for drama, he still has his difficulties to get work produced in the way he intends it. TV drama is tough and producers ever concious that if their audience don’t get something that they will just change channels.

Enthralling us with ‘war stories’ of his ‘Life on Mars’ US experience and other writing tribulations and engaging us with his clear love for the job he does, the hour went very fast indeed but it was clear that here was a writer who enjoyed giving the benefit of his vast experience to other writers, something that came across even more clearly in the scriptchat afterwards where we sat around a table in Herringham Hall and spoke more casually with him. He’s a very personable writer who cares deeply about his craft and likes working the way he does, becoming a show creator and producer has not made him a poacher turned gamekeeper but has rather allowed him to work with other writers and pass on the benefit of his own solid experience and is something not every writer has the talent for but that he finds he has a knack for. His love of his work and the writers he gets to work with was perhaps the nicest thing he shared with us and that was very appealing. Eventually we reluctantly let him go but it was so very nice meeting him and I look forward to watching his new work very soon.

Leilani Holmes

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