“Failure is an orphan,
success has many parents”

Spooks

The public didn’t want a spy show. Did they?

Spooks started life in a bookshop. Following the critical success of Kudos’ first drama series Psychos, Stephen Garrett had been tasked by UK broadcaster Channel 4 to come up with a precinct-based show, though strictly not a show based around cops or docs. Stephen Garrett had never considered why precinct-based shows tended to revolve around police stations and hospitals, but after weeks spent rejecting hotels, schools, and vetinary surgeries by way of bars, banks and shopping centers, he realised that jeopardy walking through the doors 24/7 might have something to do with that. So, in search of inspiration – perhaps novelists had stumbled upon a “precinct” that TV had missed - he took himself to a local bookshop, and found himself strangely drawn to the John le Carré section. Stephen Garrett had long been a fan of spy fiction in general and le Carré in particular. What about spies? They were a bit like the police, only more so, weren’t they? What about a show set in MI5, the UK’s domestic security service? Maybe call it Spooks, a word invented by the le Carré to describe the shadowy folk that inhabited this world. That was 1998, long before 24, Alias and The Agency. There were no spy-based TV shows. Anywhere. And so, reasoned the broadcasters at the time, that proved the public didn’t want them. It took 3 years, many brilliant creative collaborators and some luck to get to a green light from BBC1 and a global hit was born, spawning 10 seasons and a movie.

Life on Mars

Patience is rewarded

They wait for those who are blocking them to move aside or, if it all goes on long enough, to die in their place. Back in the late ‘90’s, writer Tony Jordan, then the lead writer on BBC soap EastEnders, approached Stephen Garrett with a cunning plan. Why don’t we ask the BBC, he suggested, to fund a week-long writer’s brainstorming session to generate some ideas for returning drama series? The BBC agreed, and a few weeks later, Tony had rather brilliantly engineered for himself and fellow EastEnders scribes Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharaoh, a week-long all expenses paid holiday at the seaside. Well, Blackpool to be precise. The writers, fueled by a diet of fish'n'chips, rum and candy floss, would "brainstorm" for three days, with Stephen Garrett joining them for the remainder of the week to see what notions had been generated in this uniquely creative and stimulating environment. When Stephen arrived, his attention was immediately drawn to the four words (there were only four words) on the white board dominating the small meeting room commandeered for the occasion. Memorably these words were: “suck carrots in hell!” The writers looked pleased with their three days work. Sadly, nothing came of the satanic show that lay at the heart of this suggestion, nor of the river police pitch, and nor the notion of the late-starting mum who goes to medical school. Good ideas, all. But the idea of a cop from the present day who, after a car accident finds himself back in 1913? Is he dead? Mad? On drugs? In a coma or has he traveled back in time? That was genius, so clearly inspired and game-changing, what broadcaster could possibly say no? Well, the answer was, all of them. Over and over again for seven years. Once more, it took many brilliant creative collaborators and yes, a little bit of luck to get to a greenlight from BBC1, spawning two seasons of Life on Mars and three seasons for it’s spin-off Ashes to Ashes.

Law & Order

Cease and desist!

This show started with a strongly worded cease and desist letter. Stephen Garrett had long been a fan of Dick Wolff’s iconic “ripped from the headlines” mothership Law & Order, and was confident that a UK reinvention of it could thrive. It took some months to find out who actually controlled the rights. It wasn’t Dick Wolff, but turned out to be some byzantine department at the heart of NBC, with whom Dick had an overall deal. Stephen Garrett sent an amiable missive to the designated executive at NBCU, enquiring as to whether this might be possible.  At the time there were no versions of Law & Order apart from the US originals. (There have since been Russian and French adaptations.) After some time, a staggeringly aggressive legal letter hit his desk, threatening him with all manner of corporate unpleasantness if he so much as mentioned the words “law” and “order” again. More than a year passed, when – out of the blue – the author of the earlier threat resurfaced, all love and smiles, to suggest that a relationship might be possible. Dick himself was both inspirational from afar and supportive in person. Law & Order:UK was born and ran on ITV for four seasons.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Shoot first, ask questions later OR Trust your instincts

In most battles between instinct and reason, it’s usually clear (afterwards) which should win. This
movie started with an unpromising review in The Bookseller. It wasn’t that the review was bad. On
the contrary, the critic poured only superlatives on Winifred Watson’s one hit wonder. It was just that, in spite of the fact that this quirky, uncategorisable gem was not obviously what anyone was looking for (in film or TV),  Stephen Garrett found himself strangely drawn to this 1920’s tale – part adult fairy story, part rom-com – of a down-at-heel nanny who stumbles into the turbulent love life of a commitment-phobic London call-girl and finds redemption for both of them. So, he bought the rights to the book and went in search of a fellow traveler. A chance introduction led Stephen to partner with FINDING NEVERLAND producer Nellie Belflower, Frances MacDormand attached herself with gusto to play the eponymous title role, and Focus committed to the development of the project. Finally, with a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy and David Magee, with long-time Kudos collaborator Bharat Nalluri at the helm and Amy Adams as the flighty hooker, the movie was born, and so discovered what it was always supposed to be.

Eastern Promises

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy OR sport is good for you.

Were it not for Manchester United, this movie might never have been made. Stephen Garrett and distinguished producer Paul Webster were part of the same small group of folk who shared a pot of season tickets for Fergie’s Red Army, as Man U were known to their friends at the time. Shared train journeys to Old Trafford were designated by both, as prime script-reading time. But the raucous interventions of their fellow travelers, who saw the three hour trip as the perfect opportunity in which – noisily – to discuss contracts, meant that concentrated reading became impossible. So, Stephen and Paul talked, and as a result of this talking, Stephen invited Paul to come and run Kudos (later Shine) Pictures with him. Some months later, they were approached by Focus who had been developing with the BBC a dark thriller about the Russian mafia in London with screenwriter Steve Knight – and on which they had been going nowhere very slowly. Paul took on the challenge, attached David Cronenberg as director, who in turn brought Viggo Mortenson in to play the lead, and the iconic naked steam room fight was born.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Never try to make a movie that can’t be pitched in 3 sentences or less.

The above is good advice, but is frequently not taken, and just occasionally that turns out to have been the right thing to do. Paul Torday’s widely praised best-seller, was the story of an Anglophile Yemeni sheikh who, by virtue of being a passionate angler, is determined to build a salmon run in the desert of his native land. So he tasks a British lawyer to liaise with a middle-ranking civil servant in the UK’s fisheries ministry to get the project up and running. The civil servant regards the project as ludicrous, but the government is looking for a “good news” story to come out of the Middle East, so he is forced to lay ball. The lawyer and bureaucrat fall in love, but it’s complicated, as her boyfriend is a soldier, missing presumed dead. The only words in the title that weren’t off-putting to potential audiences were “in” and “the.” But Paul Webster and the Kudos Pictures team had a passion for the project. It had to be made. SG brought in longtime collaborator Simon Beaufoy to adapt the seemingly unadaptable. Which he did and exquisitely. Director Lasse Hallstrom then joined the fray, Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt were attached as leads and Focus stepped up to the mark to finance. The result, against all the odds, was an unexpected gem.

Magician’s House

Genius is childhood recaptured at will (Beaudelaire)

Outside of reality TV there is very little in scripted TV that can be watched by families, parents and children sitting down together as they can at the movies with the best of Pixar, Disney and Dreamworks. When Stephen Garrett came across William Corlett’s MAGICIAN’S HOUSE quartet of novels he was entranced – not least because up to that point, he had made nothing that he could share with his daughter. The BBC had in those days a Sunday evening “teatime slot” that for one six week period in the winter would be dedicated to that rare thing “family drama.” That slot no longer exists. Stephen pitched the series and the show was commissioned. But Corlett’s beautiful adaptation of his own story, one in which a 16th century magician travels through time to recruit a trio of 20th century children to carry on his fight against the forces of darkness on England’s border with Wales, was too expensive for the BBC alone. Stephen Garrett forged a co-production in Canada, a shotgun wedding with two happy consequences: firstly the discovery of a brilliant producer in Karen Troubetzkoy. And secondly, because under the terms of the co-pro the shoot had to happen in British Columbia, the landscape simply became magical. The story needed an enchanted forest. The giant trees of Victoria were just that. THE MAGICIAN’S HOUSE, with House of Cards’ Ian Richardson as the eponymous magician and the voices of Stephen Fry and Jennifer Saunders as an owl and rat respectively, ran for two seasons and won an International Emmy.