There is nothing like a tiny bit of success to boost one’s confidence.
The tiny bit of success I experienced was the publication of my book of cartoons coupled with my disengagement from Eddy which freed me from the restrictions in my head that held me back from attempting to write more professionally.
One evening when glancing through the pages of the TV Mirror, a rival magazine to the Radio Times that listed independent programmes, I read of a competition for a 30-minute television play they were organizing in conjunction with the Cheltenham Festival of Contemporary Literature.
I unearthed my rejected plays and stories and found an idea that might work as a half hour comedy. Entitled The Man on a Balcony it concerned two unsuccessful actors staying in a hotel at the Cannes Film Festival who go to the ends of the earth to get noticed by the media. It was quite well plotted, I re-worked the dialogue, found a more exciting surprise ending, sent it off to the competition and thought no more about it.
A few weeks later I received a telegram from the TV Mirror informing me that I had won a prize for my entry and, the next day, a letter from the Cheltenham Festival organizers inviting me to the prize giving ceremony the following month. I was amazed.
Eve and I went to Cheltenham for the prize giving and were received at the Town Hall by a Festival hostess who showed us to front row seats in an auditorium packed with serious looking academics.
Six judges walked on to the stage and took their seats at a long table. Three were best selling authors at the time - Robert Henriquez, Eric Linklater, and John Moore, there was also Gilbert Harding, a notable TV personality of the time, and John Fernald the head of RADA ( The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art ).
Prizes were awarded for high literary merit to writers who had entered competitions for works of non-fiction, biographies and novels. This took a good hour with the introduction of each winner followed by their thank you speeches, then I heard my name called out by John Fernald.
'André de Launay ...' he started ( I had used the de because I thought it would impress )....has written a short play with such excellent humour that I think it will be most effective for the teaching of comedy technique to my drama students and certainly deserves a television production.......'
There was a bit more about the apparent brilliance of the comedy followed by applause. I got up on stage, received a cheque, handshakes and pats on the back and returned to my seat, elated and numb.
Eve and I followed everyone to a buffet supper where we hob knobbed with more well known authors, publishers and television people. It was the first time we were mixing with high octane personalities and I expected to feel out of my depth, but some knew of my cartoon book and others had seen Eve in fashion magazines, so I grew a few inches taller and hoped an inner smirk of higher self esteem was not too visible.
In time The Man on a Balcony proved to be a little gem It was published by Samuel French and used as a curtain raiser by many amateur dramatic societies ( still is ), produced at RADA for a number of years to teach up and coming stars how to get laughs from an audience, was the first play to be televised as a colour experiment on a BBC closed circuit, and chosen as the centre piece of The World Our Stage, an entertainment to celebrate the 21st anniversary of BBC Television, starring Bob Monkhoue and Peggy Cummings.
Though I thought about leaving the food business and launching out as a free lance script writer, I sensibly decided to wait for a contact of some kind from a television company or agent before taking such a precarious step and, in time, an offer came from a quite unexpected quarter. I was rung by a radio producer from the BBC Arabic Features Unit who needed someone to turn out quick half hour propaganda plays.
I immediately went to Bush House and was interviewed by the Egyptian gentleman who had rung me. He suggested I submit a trial drama, twenty minutes of dialogue which translated would come out at thirty minutes in Arabic. He had a translator on his staff.
'Any particular subject ?' I asked.
'Oh yes,' he said, 'Venereal Disease.' We need to subtly warn the younger population of the Arab speaking world about the dangers of indulging in indiscriminate intercourse.
The actors on the set of the play "The Man on the balcony"
Bob Monkhoue and Peggy Cummings