I killed Walter Gabriel

30th July 1999 at 01:00
TES columnist Adrian Mourby kicks off a two-part series on lifelong learning

I have a lot to thank Margaret Thatcher and The Archers for. In 1979, Mrs T was elected to office and soon afterwards I started with the BBC. I'd always wanted to be a writer but my parents urged me to do something secure, like work for the Beeb. Which was ironic because one of the first things Maggie did was to stop the very expansion which created my job. Within months of going on salary, I was redundant.

During my time out of work, I wrote for The Archers. Well, it was better than signing on. The reason I was able to get this unusual part-time job was that I'd met the editor, William Smethurst, at a Pebble Mill party and he'd mistaken me for someone else.

"Oh, you're the young man who wants to write for us," said William. "Do me a sample script." Actually, I was just there as someone else's guest but I accepted the challenge with alacrity and William accepted my script. I even got to give Dan Archer a cold on the radio.

I did quite well in the Beeb. At one point they even moved me to be editor of The Archers (it was I who killed off Walter Gabriel and got Richard Griffiths to play Ruth's father at the wedding of 1988).

Then I went into producing television plays. But that was where Mrs Thatcher got me in the end. She sent in John Birt as Director General and he made whole corridors of TV producers redundant. I could have gone back and worked as a freelance but I'd kept up with the writing and by then my first novel - about a man who gets made redundant - was coming out.

Since then, I've had three books published, written two Radio 4 comedy series and begun a fascinating career as a freelance opera correspondent, which I love. It takes me all over the world, although it doesn't pay well.

I'm happy doing what I do and that is what matters most. I often get asked How do you become a writer? The first answer is, "just write, practise". Most writers are grown, very few are born. The second answer is, "take what opportunities come your way; don't be closed off to what is possible, even when things go wrong with your life."

If it hadn't been for Maggie, I would still be producing other people's writing.

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