Welcome to our annual round-up of group events and activities.

The Southwest Scriptwriters buzz has grown louder this year with meetings attracting an average of 25 members. The open workshops on 24 April and 19 June drew the largest crowds, both pulling in 32 members, although there was a rumour that 34 were actually crammed into the Macready Room for the June meeting. The group has a membership of about 100, which is growing steadily.

A prolific writing output allowed us to concentrate on workshop and reading meetings instead of guest speakers this year. Since last autumn we’ve been able to feature work by Ann-Marie McCormack, Jeremy Risdon, Ray Wade, Ray Evans, Nick Holmes, Paul Skinner, John Colborn and Will Grealish in complete readings. Ann-Marie’s screenplay Mother Me Daughter went on to be selected for production in HTV’s Western Lights competition following its reading in the group last September. Southwest Scriptwriters enjoyed a special preview screening of the half-hour film — directed by Ann-Marie and starring Brenda Fricker and Paul McGann with a cameo appearance by Will Grealish — at the University of the West of England’s Bower Ashton campus (thanks to Eileen Elsey) in May. Mother Me Daughter was broadcast on HTV West on 10 July — proving that feedback from the group really works!

Several other meetings were given over to attending productions of work by writers associated with the group. The first Scriptwriters event of 2001 was attending Bristol Old Vic’s production of outgoing Honorary President Lucy Catherine’s controversial drama Sea Life in the New Vic Studio. As well as completing her time as Scriptwriters’ President, Lucy handed over Bristol Old Vic’s writing residency to group alumnus Toby Farrow in April. There was a visit to Toby’s play Aeroplane Bones in the New Vic in early May. Another Tuesday evening in May was set aside for members to attend cpa@uwe’s production of my play Bacon Sandwich at the Alma Tavern in Clifton. We concluded our summer season with a visit to Bristol Old Vic’s spectacular production of A C H Smith’s Up the Feeder, Down the ’Mouth and Back Again at Princes Wharf in the city docks in early July.

Anthony Smith was one of the few guest speakers we could squeeze into the 2000/2001 schedules. He came to the group in June to talk about writing Up the Feeder, explaining that the stories in the musical came from transcripts of interviews he carried out with former Bristol dockers. Anthony also talked about his friendship with Tom Stoppard, which began when both men worked on local newspapers in Bristol during the early 1960s.

The programme’s first speaker last October was Melanie Lawman who talked about being a principal writer on the BBC Radio Wales soap Station Road. Mel described the complicated process of weaving storylines together into daily episodes of the series, explaining the constraints and time pressures put on its writers. She illustrated her talk with recorded extracts from the programme, which was sadly axed recently by BBC Wales.

Our next speaker was Anna Farthing who talked about writing for animation last November. This is a market overlooked by many writers, and Anna has gained much experience over the last two years in co-writing Hamilton Mattress — a half-hour animated film to be broadcast on BBC1 this Christmas — with John Webster; the man behind ’The White Stuff‘ TV milk ads.

At the end of February Theatre West’s Ann Stiddard visited to talk about the work of the innovative pub theatre company based at the Alma Tavern. As well as running their regular autumn season at the Alma last year, Theatre West mounted an excellent production of Richard III in the New Vic Studio in February. Ann said that Theatre West regularly stage new plays and seek scripts for their autumn season in the first six months of the year. If you fancy having a crack at writing a play for next year’s season, your script should be around an hour long, simply set and preferably have a cast of four characters or less.

Our annual competition again proved popular, attracting 22 entries. Thanks to a £3000 grant from South West Arts, we were able to stage five winning entries as script-in-hand performances in the New Vic in early April. The overall winner was Mark Breckon’s screenplay An Occasional Dream, a romantic comedy about a single mother who rediscovers her singing talent, which received an energetic performance from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School students. Mark’s play The Camp, which was first runner-up in last year’s competition, has been picked for production by Show of Strength to run at the Tobacco Factory in Bedminster from 19 September until 13 October.

The running-up scripts this year were Steve Hennessy’s play Still Life; Lesley Bown’s TV sitcom Adam ’n’ Eve, which was third equal with my stage comedy Bacon Sandwich; Andy Graham’s Ortonesque black comedy Danger Men and Brian Weaving’s tale of Alzheimer’s and angst It Ends With Revelations. Steve’s play was given a full production by Partisan Theatre in a week’s run at the Tobacco Factory in early June and, following the success of Bacon Sandwich at the Alma in May, cpa@uwe will present two more of my plays in a double-bill, Acid Drops, at the QEH Theatre on 26 and 27 October.

We hope to stage our fifth annual season of script-in-hand performances and second full production next spring.

In April we were very pleased to welcome Mike Bullen as our new Honorary President. Mike joined the group after moving to Bristol two years ago and gave a talk on writing his ITV comedy drama success Cold Feet in April last year. There’s another series of the worldwide small screen hit on ITV this autumn and Mike is now working on feature film scripts. He’s joined us at several meetings and events since April and we look forward to seeing him in the autumn.

Celebrations of the lives of two remarkable members of Southwest Scriptwriters were held in February and May:

Val Lorraine died aged 80, on Sunday, 21 January after time in St Peter’s Hospice and a nursing home near her home in Clifton. She was a stalwart of the group, rarely missing a meeting, and joined in with activities until late last November.

Val spent her childhood in Wimbledon and made an early stage debut, appearing in The Wind in the Willows at the Richmond Theatre aged 11. During World War II she worked at the BBC, serving under Richard Dimbleby as an assistant and broadcaster, before moving to Pinewood Studios to work as a music assistant. She married Bob in 1942 and lived in Liverpool until the family made their home in Grosvenor Lodge in Gordon Road, Clifton in the mid-1950s.

With her own acting career on hold while she brought up her children, Andrea, Elise and Ross, Val kept herself at the centre of the city’s theatrical life by taking struggling actors, writers and artists into her home. The list of illustrious lodgers and guests at Grosvenor Lodge includes Peter O’Toole, Pete Postlethwaite and Tom Stoppard. The playwright stayed with Val — she always insisted that he was a guest and not a lodger — between 1959 and 1961, and he wrote his first play, A Walk on the Water, at her dining room table. ‘She had a very sweet husband and they both loved the theatre very much,’ he recalled. ‘They kept a kind of open house for young actors, artists and friends who were passing through.’

Val chaired the Bristol Old Vic Theatre Club for many years and was involved with Southwest Scriptwriters’ predecessor, the Bristol Playwrights’ Company. She continued acting throughout the 1990s, with appearances including a Bristol Old Vic production of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, BBC1’s Casualty and a Radio 4 adaptation of Cider with Rosie. Val could always be relied on to read at Scriptwriters open workshop sessions and generously allowed the group to rehearse complete script readings at her home.

A celebration of Val’s life was held at Grosvenor Lodge on 11 February. The 70 guests included Tom Stoppard, Aardman Animation co-founder Peter Lord and members of Southwest Scriptwriters. The event was a great opportunity to remember Val with her family and friends and included some moving tributes from those who were close to her. Very much a part of Southwest Scriptwriters since its foundation in 1994, Val is a sad loss to the group.

Derek Graham held his ’bring a bottle‘ party at the Marriott Royal Hotel, College Green on 13 May. Derek was the only one who did bring a bottle to the celebration in the hotel’s cocktail lounge — an oxygen bottle from the Bristol Royal Infirmary where he had been for the previous fortnight, suffering from lung cancer. Doctors at the BRI had advised Derek that it was unlikely he would survive surgery to discover the extent of the disease, so he decided to throw a final party for his family and friends.

‘They poured into the Marriott hotel in Bristol from all over the UK and you could have been forgiven for thinking that it was a thanksgiving feast. It was of course,’ he wrote in a paper — Thoughts of Derek Graham — emailed to partygoers the following day. ‘There were people saying thanks to each other for all the shared ups and downs in our lives and it hardly mattered which of us was waving goodbye.’

Sipping coffee, swallowing pain killers and taking occasional tokes on his oxygen mask, Derek was in ebullient form at the party, relishing the ‘chance to be the centre of attention’ and enthusing about the work of Southwest Scriptwriters.

A former member of the Bristol Playwrights’ Company, Derek taught English in Singapore between 1994 and 1999. He joined Southwest Scriptwriters two years ago when, planning to attend a production in the Theatre Royal one Tuesday evening, he met his friend Geoff Serle on his way to the Cooper’s Loft. After this Derek attended meetings regularly and was able to offer much advice and support to other members.

His Guardian obituary lists Derek’s occupations as ‘English and Drama teacher, writer, actor, bus washer, waiter and lorry driver’. Also a former writer-in-residence at Salisbury Playhouse, he was teaching in local schools and spending time at his favourite haunt, the Alma Tavern, until he was admitted to the BRI.

Derek died aged 59, on Friday, 18 May with his daughters, Louise, Danielle and Laura, at his side. In a postscript to his final Conversation Piece — which was read at the open workshop meeting on 5 June — he wrote, ‘Few people have the good fortune to say all they wish to say before the curtains close but we’ve done that.’

Our next meeting is on Tuesday, 11 September; details of our early autumn season will be included in another newsletter before then. Programmes are also posted on our website, www.southwest-scriptwriters.co.uk (thanks to group webmaster Andy Burras).

See you in September.