Ranald Graham just died. Not many of you will know who he is or care. But when I met him he was a TV producer working for Yorkshire TV. Or is that working against Yorkshire TV? The politics of the TV series Yellowthread Street were tortuous. And Ranald had managed to wangle his way into being the producer of the show. In the process, he hired me as a writer. I was desperate enough to simply go along with whatever he wanted and I guess that is what he needed from me. I would like to think it was the superiority of my writing but the reality of the film and TV industry is that a producer will tell you anything to flatter you into to working on their terms. In this case all the sane writers were being warned off, as the contract for the show was disapproved of by the Writers Guild.
Not that Ranald’s terms were that bad. As soon as he saw me he told me the cheque was in the post and that even before I started writing I was on the pay roll. This, more than anything in my entire life, cheered me considerably. For the very first time ever someone had shown faith in my ability to write. I was his willing slave from then on – well until I began to be his unwilling slave.
The show was Yellowthread Street. And Yellowthread Street was a big budget action show set in Hong Kong that one would imagine was a professionally run production with a team of hard nosed TV experts making sure everything ran like clockwork. The reality was a shambles. Apart from Typhoons and the Tiananmen Massacre interfering with the production schedules, Ranald’s, let us say, eccentricities, proved somewhat distracting. You can catch some of the flavour of this insane endeavor from my short story, the One Legged Rickshaw Boy, http://lawrencegray.net/odds_and_sods/the-one-legged-rickshaw-boy.html
Even so, I count this moment as a pivotal moment. Suddenly I was transported from my mundane and very depressed existence eking a living doing a bit of teaching, and struggling to get episodes of The Bill, to a jet setting writer working and thinking along International lines. England no longer held me trapped in its depressing class ridden suburban grasp. Being sent out to Hong Kong to write scripts and doctor the scripts of all the episodes did more than put money in my bank account for the first time in my extremely deprived existence, it opened my eyes to a whole new range of possibilities.
At last I was free. And writing episodes of Yellowthread Street was the penance I had to pay for my release from prison. This was the last service to the UK I had to make before it let me start my real life. Although Ranald was an infuriating attention deficit with a peculiar obsession with my shoes and immensely deprived dress sense, the rolls of money he stuffed into my pocket and his general encouragement to buy Armani and live like a rock star flipped my mind from the gloomy assumption that I would be back on social security as soon as the current commission was over, to an assumption that I was going to Hollywood, getting an Oscar and getting laid by whoever was the hottest starlet currently stupid enough to screw the writer instead of the producer. This set me on a course that has kept me off shore for the past twenty years. And having spent the last three months in the UK I can only say I am immensely grateful to the crazy bastard. Truly he, and of course my wife, saved my life.
Whatever the faults of Ranald, he knew that I deserved a break and that it was long overdue. Wisdom indeed. Read more about him at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/2010/sep/16/ranald-graham-obituary