Welcome to our annual review.

The first event in Southwest Scriptwriters 2001/2 programme was a pre-season visit last July to the animation of Hamilton Mattress at its Bedminster studio. The half-hour model animation, co-written by Southwest Scriptwriter Anna Farthing, received its premiere on BBC1 last Christmas Day and was the highest rated children’s/family show over the Christmas period. The film went on to receive the ‘Best Television Special‘ accolade at the biannual British Animation Awards at the National Film Theatre, London, in March this year, and is the first of an intended trilogy about the eponymous aardvark with a talent for percussion. On a sweltering summer’s evening, Anna took members on a tour of the painstaking animation process, from storyboards through model making and frame-by-frame animation to a sneak preview of some of the footage.

The 2001/2 season started inauspiciously amidst the horror of Tuesday, 11 September 2001, with an open workshop session. These continue to be our most popular meetings, with the workshop held on 6 November drawing the largest crowd of the year — an incredible 48 members lining the walls of the Cooper’s Loft. Attendances have soared since last autumn, meetings attracting an average turnout of 31, up from 25 in 2000/1.

Meetings at which we present complete scripts have again proved popular. Over the last ten months, work by Eileen Elsey, Ann Gawthorpe, John Colborn, Anne-Marie McCormack, Lesley Bown, Bob Fannin, Jeremy Risdon, Keith Melton, Sian Williams and Pete Kesterton fell under the Southwest Scriptwriters spotlight. These readings offer members the chance to get feedback that is more detailed on entire scripts instead of just extracts.

This year we were pleased to introduce two guest speakers. In February, Southwest Scriptwriters’ Honorary President, Mike Bullen, chaired a talk by former EastEnders writer, Paul Dodgson. Paul described the process and politics of writing for the BBC’s top soap, illustrating his talk with clips from episodes he wrote. He also played an extract from his new radio drama and outlined a commission he was working on for the BBC Natural History Unit.

Our second speaker was Andy Burden, director of Bath’s Rondo Theatre. In May, Andy led an ebullient an energising discussion on the relationship between writer and theatre director, drawing on his background in creating devised shows. Members contributed their experience of working with directors and mounting productions, and Andy encouraged a DIY approach to staging plays.

This year the group supported several productions written by members. In September, Show of Strength staged Mark Breckon’s play The Camp as part of its autumn season at the Tobacco Factory. The Camp was first runner-up in our 2000 competition and received an excellent script-in-hand performance from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School students in the New Vic Studio in May 2000. The Show of Strength production received a listing in The Independent as the ’best show outside London‘ during its run in Bedminster. Mark has recently had further writing success with his first script for the BBC1 soap Doctors filmed for screening in September.

Members supported the production of my plays Christmas with Johnny and Dee and Have-a-Go Hero in a double-bill called Acid Drops at the QEH Theatre last October. The Centre for Performing Arts at the University of the West of England presented the show in a two-night run.

Steve Hennessy’s play Stairway to Heaven, one of the scripts presented in our first showcase season in April 1998, received a full production by Theatre West at the Alma Tavern last November. Steve’s script, shortened for the pub theatre show, was staged on an impressive set representing the construction site of Cheops’ pyramid in Ancient Egypt, and Southwest Scriptwriters helped sell out the production on its opening night.

Our annual competition attracted 33 entries, up from 23 the previous year. The overall winner was the pilot episode of Ray Brooking and Judy Thunhurst’s irreverent sitcom, Seven Sisters, set in a London convent. Brian Weaving’s courtroom drama, In Charge, centring on the fallout from an accident on a school trip, came a close second, with John Colborn’s play about royalty and relativity, Canute2, in third place. Kate Stonham’s radio drama, Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey, in which an elderly man recalls an eventful life, was third runner-up, and Matthew’s Splinter by Heather Lister placed fifth. Claire Griffiths was fifth runner-up with Daisy’s Chain, a play about the family upheaval and reprisals caused when a mentally disabled girl falls pregnant, and Michael Karwowski placed seventh with his rustic romance, Oh, I Don’t Know About That.

Our season of script-in-hand performances, which ran from 14 to 18 May, again proved the highlight of the year. This time we shifted venues to the Tobacco Factory and the event worked very well in its new location. We staged six of the seven winning scripts — Matthew’s Splinter held over until next year because Heather is currently living abroad — over the five nights, and attracted an average audience of 95. We hope to stage next year’s New Writing Festival at the Tobacco Factory in the spring or early summer. The closing date for entries for our 2003 showcase is Tuesday, 26 November 2002, so now is the time to start work on your entry!

Thanks to webmaster Andy Burras, Southwest Scriptwriters’ success extends into cyberspace, with frequent email enquiries from all around the world. Visit our website at www.southwest-scriptwriters.co.uk for details of forthcoming programmes and other information on the group.

Our next meeting is an open workshop on Tuesday, 10 September. The first newsletter of our 2002/3 session will be hitting your doormat (thanks to John Colborn) in early September and we look forward to another exciting and eventful year.

See you in September.