Friday 13 March 2015

Terry Pratchett and Scouting.

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A tremendous amount will be written about Terry Pratchett by people who knew him far better than I, or worked with him at some point. Others will write because that's their job. 

In my case I knew him from 2001 and probably exchanged my last email with him 4 years ago, though we kept in touch through Colin, his agent.

By 1999 I had been a Scout Leader for some years and because I'd written the odd sketch, I was asked to co-write the Eastleigh and Chandlers Ford Gang Show, one of the biggest and best in the country. They take place every 2 years and in 2001 I was asked to write and produce the 2002 Show. With a cast of 80 and about the same number of backstage and front-of-house crew it was a massive responsibility. I decided that the Show would not follow the usual format of silly jokes and well-tried Scout songs like Crest Of A Wave, but would have a plot, a storyline and songs, relevant to both the modern day kids and the story.

I also wanted a celebrity of sorts who would agree to be kidnapped (on film so we could show it every night) as part of the plot and who would also agree to be used for publicity. I tried 2 locally famous people, but though they agreed, their agents refused to allow them to take part, strangely in both cases because 9/11 had recently happened and copycat kidnappings might be encouraged (by little Brownies????).

Eventually I decided to go for someone who both adults and children could recognise and empathise with, as well as someone who was their own boss. Terry Pratchett was an obvious choice, but I then had the problem of getting in touch with him. I contacted his publisher, his personal publicist, his agent and eventually he agreed to a meeting and to an exchange of emails.

I outlined what I wanted and Terry told me to leave it to him and he would make the arrangements. He contacted what was then Ottakars bookshop in Salisbury and the manager agreed to reopen the shop on a Saturday at 6.30pm so Terry could do a mock signing and we could kidnap him. Action!

A small queue of adult Scout Leader lined up to get books signed (paid for) and 2 Brownies crept up behind Terry. One took hisa famour hat off and the other hit him over the head with a rubber chicken. It had to be a rubber chicken, said Terry, or it wouldn't have been funny. It really must have hurt, but he didn't bat an eyelid, even when he hit his chin on the desk as he sank off his chair! Other Brownies surrounded him and frogmarched him out of the shop across the road into a car park where he was driven off to a secret location.

Meanwhile while the kidnap was in progress a small crowd of people had assembled outside the shop to get a glimpse of the great man and the film crew. The Salisbury police had also been alerted by Terry and were there to keep control and also to make sure we could get him across the road safely. The traffic was stopped accordingly! We then filmed his safe return without a hitch, after which I drove Terry back to his home.

Needless to say, the film, when it was shown each night of the Show, was a great success and the pre-show publicity was wonderful. The Echo, our local Southampton newspaper, ran a series of full page articles on the Terry Pratchett kidnap, treating it as though it were real event and each week giving an update from the local police on their progress. Terry was wonderful. During the filming he had everyone eating out of his hand. He told jokes, made fun of himself and looked to be having a wonderful time.... as were we all. He added to the publicity build-up in any way we asked him to.

At the end of the filming we presented Terry with a framed Scout neckerchief. It was the famous red necker only given to members of the Gang Show and even then only to those who have been in 5 Shows. A rarity. Only a very few years ago in a talk he said how proud he is of being a Scout and an honorary Brownie. On a TV programme he made on voluntary euthanasia last year I saw that above the fireplace in his main study is the framed necker... given pride of place.

Terry only ever appeared in one book and that was my Trouble With Swords, the second in the Temporal Detective Agency series. Colin, his agent, took a copy down to Terry some weeks ago and read him the appropriate part (by this time Terry was nearly totally blind). The inclusion was a "thank you" to a great man who made that Gang Show a tremendous success and kick-started the plot for the first Agency book, Leap of Faith. Full circle.

Terry Pratchett touched so many lives in so many ways. Yesterday was such a sad day, but his life was wonderful and his friendship was one I'll always treasure.

I usually finish with "Blog on, Dudes!", but on this occasion I'll just finish.

Goodnight, Terry! Sleep well.