Yesterday we introduced you a lost TV pilot for a Paul McGann series that was never made – Fables of Forgotten Things . The response has been a huge thumbs up. Now, one of the creators of the show, Simon Allen, reveals the background behind the series:
Background on Fables
“In 2004 we made a short film called A Fairytale of Forgotten Things (also on BBC Film Network here ) for a budget of, quite literally, thin air! The film was broadcast on BBC 2 and an independent producer approached us about doing something more with the idea. We knew it wasn’t right for a feature and, quite seriously, I was considering writing it as a children’s book. Then, that Christmas, I rewatched the ’80s children’s drama Box of Delights on DVD and we decided that the idea could work as a children’s drama series. With no track record in television, we knew that we’d need more than just a script or a treatment to get the project off the ground so we decided to make a pilot episode that would showcase the idea and its potential. We shortlisted several actors for Clarence (the lead) and Paul McGann was at the top of the list. We were absolutely thrilled when he responded positively to the pilot script and a month later we shot that script in just four days. ”
Where was it intended to air?
“Looking back it was definitely an unwitting love letter to those autumnal, melancholic drama series that we grew up watching., particularly things like Box of Delights but also The Phoenix and the Carpet, Aliens in the Family and even Chocky. It was very much conceived as something that would air during the Sunday teatime slot as the nights darken, the air chills and Christmas approaches. Something enigmatic, haunting and full of atmosphere that would be remembered in years to come. There are so many phenomenally sophisticated young adult/children’s books in the genre but you rarely see their psychological complexity and sheer darkness reflected in children’s television – everything is sacrificed to pace and light and noise. I guess we wanted to change that. We wanted shadow and quiet and atmosphere!”
Can you tell us something about yourself and your co-creator?
“I’m Simon Allen, the writer/co-creator of Fables. Toby Meakins was the director/co-creator. We do our own things (me – other TV scripts and books, Toby – directing ads, etc) but we collaborate regularly and have made five short films together. Two were on BBC 2, one was for the UK Film Council and all five have been on BBC Film Network. We’re now working on our first feature film, a low budget ghost story called Breathe that’s a sort of modern MR James story.”
What was your intention if it had gone to a full series? Why didn’t it?
“We saw it as something that might run for a couple of seasons – maybe no more than 6 x 25 minutes. We felt that was the strongest iteration of the concept. All of the major players in television drama saw the pilot and loved it. Literally every company you could name came back with the most fantastic praise and three of them came in with firm offers. However, they wanted to expand the concept so it fitted into the Doctor Who Saturday family slot. That meant a much broader show with around 13-15 episodes a season and we didn’t honestly feel that the intimacy of the idea would survive that kind of amplification. I absolutely love Doctor Who but Fables is a different kind of animal. In the end we signed up with Zenith Entertainment who, at that time, were known for making out-and-out children’s shows like King Arthur’s Disasters and Byker Grove. The creative team there really understood what were trying to do but, unfortunately, their company went into receivership shortly after we signed, taking the show and the pilot with it! Although this was a huge blow, the pilot was strong enough for us to secure professional representation and it really kickstarted our careers. We got on with other projects and, ironically, forgot about it!”
Now you have the rights back, do you have any plans for it?
“Very few people have actually seen the pilot – literally the 20 or so execs/producers to whom it was originally sent. Most importantly, it was never actually shown to a broadcaster so there’s always a possibility that, at some stage, we’ll bite the bullet and do that. Other, unfilmed, episodes were written – my favourite was one where Clarence and Danny find themselves in a bizarre scrapyard to which people’s cars go when they forget where they’re parked! I guess our only plan is to see how people respond to the pilot and go from there. I really wanted to show the pilot at Sci-Fi London or a similarly high profile festival to see how it would play with an audience that understands/appreciates its influences. We’re working on other projects and meeting people all the time so when the right moment to pitch Fables comes up, we’ll definitely go for it!”