Hearing people laugh at lines I had written was a life-changing experience
YOU may not know the name Paul Mayhew-Archer, but you've probably watched a television show he's worked on.
The writer has scripted some of the top comedy programmes on our screens including Spitting Image, The Vicar of Dibley and more recently on the BAFTA winning sitcom Mrs Brown's Boys.
Those interested can find out more when Paul comes to do an entertaining and comical talk at Bitton House, Teignmouth, on November 17.
The event will raise funds for Teignbridge charity The Helen Foundation.
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Paul, who lives in Oxfordshire, believes that being an only child was the reason he ended up as writer.
"Looking back, I was a hopeless billy-no-mates because I spent a lot of my time in the school holidays writing," he said.
" Throughout my teenage years one of my heroes was Alan Ayckbourn and so I would attempt to write Alan Ayckbourn comedies. Mind you, he wasn't the only writer I had a go at aping. When I was 12 I discovered that Shakespeare had somehow failed to write about William The Conqueror.
"I regarded this as a lamentable gap in his canon, so I set about filling that gap by writing several pages of the most appalling blank verse imaginable. It was terrible because a) I didn't actually know how blank verse worked and b) I didn't actually know anything about William the Conqueror."
He slowly built up his confidence and, while at sixth form, he wrote and produced a play for the first time and was encouraged to do so by his English teacher.
"They say 'write about what you know' so I completely ignored that advice and wrote about a man who invites his boss round for dinner and then during the course of the evening discovers that his boss and his wife are having an affair," he said.
"I was 18, I didn't have a boss or a wife and my parents weren't having affairs. So goodness knows why I wrote the play. But hearing people laugh at lines I'd written was a life-changing experience."
While at Cambridge University, where he read English, he continued writing but didn't feel confident enough to join the main drama group.
"I absolutely loved it there. I loved the scope and freedom of the course and above all I loved the opportunity to pursue my interest in comedy," said Paul.
"I didn't have the self-confidence to join Footlights because that had super-clever people in it like Griff Rhys Jones and Clive Anderson," he said.
"So instead I joined CULES (Cambridge University Light Entertainment Society) which put on shows in hospitals' old people's homes and psychiatric establishments — anywhere where the audience couldn't get away.
"Luckily for me, a man called Andy Hamilton also joined and we started writing and performing together.
"With some friends we took a couple of shows to the Edinburgh fringe in the hope of getting discovered. We weren't.
"Nevertheless, Andy has gone on to great things — News Quiz , Outnumbered — and we still work together 40 years on because I produce his radio comedy Old Harry's Game."
Paul went on to teach English and wrote various plays for students, but his heart was always with script writing.
Having seen a job advert for a producer in BBC Radio Comedy, he applied for the vacancy and got the position.
"It meant I got to produce lots of comedy shows like Weekending, starring a little known actor called David Jason and I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue," said Paul.
"I learnt all the comedy writing tricks of the trade which I then put into practice when I wrote my first radio sitcom An Actor's Life for Me starring John Gordon Sinclair."
Lady Luck continued to shine on him and he got to work alongside Richard Curtis on The Vicar of Dibley.
"Richard is an extraordinary man because he is not only the most successful comedy writer in the country if not the world having worked on Blackadder, Bean, Four Weddings, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones, Love Actually, but somehow he has also found time to be the creative driving genius behind Comic Relief and Make Poverty History," he said.
"I believe he has raised more than one billion pounds for charity. He also happens to be the nicest man on the planet."
Paul has fond memories of working with comedienne Dawn French on the show when she played the leading lady Vicar Geraldine.
"She is sort of the straight character surrounded by lunatics," he said.
"The utter brilliance of Dawn was to bring such a sense of comedy to the part that one never thinks of her as a straight character.
"She was also very involved in finding those quirks and tics that gave Geraldine her comic personality."
One of his high points was working on TV's Spitting Image in the 1980s.
"It was like working on a motion picture equivalent to a classic newspaper cartoon — the sort of cartoon that absolutely nails a politician or celebrity, for example characterising Mrs Thatcher as a man, Roy Hattersley drenching everyone with spit, little David Steel and big David Owen, grey John Major pushing peas around a plate.
"It's just a pity Fifty Shades of Grey wasn't published in the early 1990s — there would have been a sketch about a woman desperate for pleasure and John Major telling her he'll be joining her shortly once he's got that last pea."
Paul has also enjoyed success with the likes of Two Pints of Lager and My Hero and more recently the top comedy series Mrs Brown's Boys.
"Mrs Brown had been going for years on stage and in novels before that, so the characters and relationships were all fully formed before I worked on it," said Paul.
"I was simply brought in to help Brendan O'Carroll re-fashion the plays into a series of half-hour episodes and help generate more comic ideas where necessary.
"I never have a clue whether a show will be a hit. I knew from watching the stage show and going to studio recordings that it works wonderfully well with a live audience, but sometimes viewers at home can be put off by audience laughter.
"I was delighted when it was a huge, huge hit and utterly thrilled when it won this year's BAFTA."
Having been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease 18 months ago, he's now taken a step back and has slowed down his work pace, but still has a passion to write a stage comedy.
"Apart from Mrs Brown and another little telly project for next Christmas, I'm sort of retired," said Paul. "The neurologist told me to go off and enjoy myself so I only work on things or with people I know and love."
With more time on his hands, he enjoys going to the cinema, listening to classical music and wasting hours surfing the internet.
He also gets to spend more time with his family, in Drayton near Abingdon where he lives.
"My wife Julie was Mayor of Abingdon some years back so I got to be her mayoress," he joked. "We have a son Simon and I am, in fact, my son's uncle — but people will have to attend my talk to find out how."