johnminnion.com

Television

The Times TV column

In 1991 I was teamed up with Lynne Truss on a weekly Television column. She was a treat to work with, consistently witty and wacky in her observations. The TV production companies fed us a stream of videos to preview, from which she selected the week’s focus. Our weekly phonecalls comparing notes after video watching helped us both.

My first drawing for this column: Wildlife on One, a prime example of the BBC’s brilliant tradition of nature programmes.

It started as a preview column, giving me unique advance knowledge of what my friends were about to hear. Later it became a review column: still hard work for Lynne, but simpler for me as I only needed to watch one video each time.

Tom Bell, John Bowe, Zoe Wannamaker and Helen Mirren in the first Prime Suspect. ‘There was no fanfare at all’ (writes Lynne Truss in Glued to the Gogglebox). ‘Helen Mirren wasn’t even a big name for TV drama. After watching it on tape, I remember ringing my family, my friends, everyone I could think of, to make sure they didn’t miss it.’ Subsequently of course, it burgeoned into a seven series marathon. Gratifying to feel that Lynne’s preview had played a tiny part in getting it on the road.

Lynne would watch up to eight hours of video a day and, she says, was ‘well aware this was under 10% of what was broadcast’.

Morse.
Kevin Whately as Lewis, down-to-earth assistant to John Thaw as the Inspector. Morse launched a new two-hour format that few believed would work. But it did, of course.
Des Lynum broadcasting from a rainy Wimbledon
Michael Fish, the man who got the blame for the great storm of 1987. Talk about blaming the messenger… but in a way, he is being compared to God, so he shouldn’t complain.
He bought the original.
Roger and Me.
Michael Moore about to confront Roger Smith, the head of General Motors. He didn’t exactly succeed, except for kick-starting his career as a documentary maker.

As you can see, I suddenly found myself having to draw in colour, something that needed quite a bit of experimenting that could only be done on the job. The main problems came with the inking variation in the newspaper printing process.

The paper is printed by four plates in quick succession, one for each primary colour (CYMK as it is known, with K being black). At any given moment, one of those plates may be over-inked compared with the others. So if you have drawn a pink face and it over-inks Magenta, the character looks florid. Overink Cyan and the character looks ill with cold. If yellow, there’s a nasty case of jaundice. And overinked black (Key) makes everything look gloomy.

Because the dots often dropped out of light areas, sometimes only shadow areas printed on a face: you can see that on the Decision 92 drawing below. All very tricky. So one lesson I learned was to leave the faces white.

Decision 92: Live coverage of the American Presidential Election in the days when politics could be ‘just a bit of fun’ (as Peter Snow might say). Alongside the Snow man, David Dimbleby, Charles Wheeler and Gavin Esler.
Salman Rushdie. The Ayatollah’s fatwah created havoc not just for Rushdie’s life but in the lives of those around him. In this film about him, the identity of security guards is protected by bitmapping their faces.

After a while, not surprisingly, Lynne Truss called it a day. You can only do so much screen watching. But I continued illustrating the column with a succession of writers, most notably Nigella Lawson (pre-goddess) and David Flusfeder

David Jason in A Touch of Frost and Alan Bates in Unnatural Pursuits. This was one of Nigella Lawson’s columns, picking two stroppy misfit characters to compare. Bates plays a ‘hopelessly shambolic walking disaster’ while Jason as Frost is tetchy and morose, ‘the detective as misfit’. Bearing Morse in mind too, there seems to be a TV type here.
This was David Jason’s first serious part for 20 years and he had the Delboy image to dispel to pull it off. Well, you can still see Touch of Frost re-runs, so he clearly got it right.
The trusty review formula was to link programmes that shared subject matter. Here The Look (about catwalks) is coupled with period costume drama House of Eliot starring Stella Gonet and Louise Lombard

In 2003, the first book I published under the Checkmate Books imprint came straight from my work for this column. This was Glued to the Gogglebox, a small compilation of television drawings complete with an essay by Lynne Truss. I still have a few copies, and you can buy them here.