FFR – In The Words Of The Author

In Spring 2008, a few years after Famous For Retreating was released, Jake Collins, then-editor of the The Eyeshield fanzine, interviewed scriptwriter/mixer Martin Odoni about the making of the play. This interview was originally published in issue 52 of the fanzine, as part of the semi-regular feature The Audio Play’s The Thing.


1. Do you have a favourite Knightmare series, team, puzzle, creature and/or character?

When I get asked which was my favourite series, I tend to give a slightly odd answer that sounds contradictory. I subscribe to the common view that season 3 was the best in terms of balance and atmosphere, but my favourite is season 2. It’s probably just, for reasons too boring to go into, it was the only early season that I recorded on video back in the day, and so it’s the one I remember best from the time when Knightmare was what I felt it always should be.

Favourite team is probably team 7 from that year. They’re not well-remembered by many, and for sure they weren’t the sharpest knives in the kitchen drawer (oh how I hope adulthood has taught them the proper way to spell words beginning with S), but they did have a good sense of humour, and reaching the end of level 2 was a good achievement given their limitations.

Puzzle… well I could be boring and predictable and say the Corridor of Blades, and there’s no doubt in my mind it was one of the classics. But I’ll go instead for something less dramatic; the stained glass chamber from seasons 2 and 3. It looked absolutely beautiful and ethereal, as did so many of the Level Three chambers in the hand-painted days. It was also spooky – those strange footsteps you could hear in the background coming from an unseen source would make my nerves jangle – and the tricks-with-light solution was always very neat.

Favourite creature was the catacombite. Why? Just look at it, figure it out for yourself. Favourite character was Lord Fear, a terrific parody of the 80’s/90’s technocrats, as well as a wonderfully easy character to write for. He always had such a smart wit, which is a really accessible mindset for a writer.

2. How did the idea for the whole concept of Famous for Retreating (writing it, casting it and making it) come about?

Oo, this is a long, long story. Are you sitting comfortably…?

The original idea lies with a set of prose fanfics I wrote for Knightmare back around 2002. One of them, The Chrysalis, which was almost as long as a Dave Morris novella, was my original idea for giving Lord Fear an origin story that spanned the gap between seasons 4 and 5. (I think you can still find it somewhere on fanfiction.net.) Sadly, the story worked far better in my head than it did on paper. It proved to be massively over-long, and never offered nearly enough insight into why Lord Fear would be interested in technology. The story also contained a dreadful cliche that I only noticed in hindsight; Lord Fear was effectively just Mogdred in a new body. Well, it was a bit more complex than that, but still… Yuck! I can’t believe I ever thought that would work!*

In mid-2004, I decided I wanted to abandon the old line of fanfics I’d written for KM, and instead to write a completely new version of Lord Fear’s origin. I’d been reading through some historical books about obscure Saxon and Viking customs, and came across stories about how sagas would sometimes be told as a contest. That was where I got the idea about Treguard and Lord Fear having to do battle with stories, and I could use that as a vehicle for Fear to explain his emergence retrospectively.

I was initially planning to write it just as another prose fic. But I’d been listening to some fanmade audio plays that were based on Blake’s 7 (another favourite series of mine), and I realised that if you could do Blake with sound alone, why not Knightmare? It would be a nice idea for a meet-up of fans, and it would also be far easier to release the finished product to the public than with the RPG.

Writing the original script was surprisingly easy. The first draft was done in a little over five weeks, if I remember rightly. I was struggling a little with Lord Fear’s origin story, so Ricky Temple stepped up to the plate to help with that, and together we got the draft finished in double-quick time. (In fact, Ricky wrote a massive, really entertaining scene with Aedric, Motley and Mellisandre set just after Merlin’s bumbling with the THUNDARA spell – another scene he wrote – but with bitter regret I finally decided we had to cut it because it was slowing the story down without telling us anything that the THUNDARA scene hadn’t told us already. I can no longer find the scene on my PC, so I hope Ricky still has a copy of it somewhere.)

The biggest difficulty in writing was not the story itself but with the casting, which is an enormous, chaotic business in its own right. To explain (and please note, some of these details may be slightly wrong, as I’m writing from hectic, dizzy memories…)

The cast was originally far larger, and with more characters. For instance, Lissard was supposed to accompany Lord Fear and Skarkill in the tunnel scenes, while Hordriss, not Greystagg, was meant to be the wizard who gave Salvania the emerald dagger as a present.

Unfortunately, cast members kept on having to drop out because of other commitments they had that simply had to take priority. We kept postponing the recording to try and suit everybody, but still the problem reared its head over and over. Sometimes we could bring in other cast members to replace the drop-outs – most of the new ones would also drop out – other times we’d simply get established cast to ‘double up’. And sometimes I could ‘merge’ two roles; when Robin Barlow had to drop out, for example, I simply gave Hordriss’ scenes to Greystagg.

But we were close to breaking point by February 2005. We’d committed to recording the following month, and the cast had gotten so small that everyone except Eleanor was playing at least two characters. Then Az Sanders, Louise Brockhouse and Ricky Temple all had to drop out with two weeks to go till recording, and so I had to find a way to re-cast Treguard, Greystagg, Merlin, Skarkill and Honesty Bartram. Ruzl was on hand to take over Treguard, thankfully, and Greystagg I gave to Eleanor (who was already supposed to be playing Elita). In despair, I then cut Lissard from the story altogether and merged his role into Skarkill’s (so if you’ve ever wondered why the Opposition seem a little under-represented in the play, well now you know). I gave Merlin’s and Skarkill’s roles to Alec, who had previously been cast as Lissard, and I took up the part of Bartram myself (to the play’s detriment; it is horribly obvious during their brief conversation that Lord Fear and Bartram are played by the same guy).

When it came to recording week, I met Eleanor in the flesh for the first time, and realised she had a good voice for Stiletta, and so I swapped her roles with Clare’s. Clare, who arrived a day after everyone else, was alarmed when she realised she was going to be playing Elita and Greystagg instead of the character she’d been preparing for! But she still did wonderfully well, especially with Elita. For me, she outdid Stephanie Hesp’s delivery of “Faceache!”

All the casting chaos in the previous few months meant that, after a while, re-drafting largely became a matter of adjusting to the ever-contracting cast, rather than making improvements to the story. This is why there’s a fair bit of ‘dialogue-flab’, and some over-cooked lines that I’d have liked to have revised if I’d had time. (I’m especially unhappy with Lord Fear’s monologue about Mogdred’s theories, which I thought was over-long and very clunky.)

*I have to acknowledge that the ‘kindly-young-magician-who-wouldn’t-say-boo-to-a-goose-gets-corrupted-by-power-and-slays-his-noble-master’ routine is pretty hackneyed as well, but I much prefer it to the recycled ‘Galvatron-is-Megatron’ idea…

3. How did you decide which actors played which parts?

As I said in answer 2, all in all, casting was more a matter of simply getting enough people in to do the job than fussing about who would be best in which role. The late switch of Eleanor and Clare was about the only time we had that luxury.

4. How did you prepare for your roles? Did you watch the characters’ appearances on Knightmare several times, practise into a tape recorder etc, or did you just turn up and say the lines?

We did watch recordings a bit, but for the most part, yeah, we just turned up and spoke into the mic. Most of the team gathered round the table in Alec’s flat the evening before recording began and talked in some depth about how to approach our performances. We concluded that the best way to go was to do our best portrayal of the characters as we understood them, rather than trying to do an impression of what we saw on TV, as that would just turn the play into a parody, which we absolutely wanted to avoid. Hence Ruzl’s very sinister and cold version of Treguard, and Clare’s very Scottish-sounding Greystagg.

Also worth mentioning is Alec’s version of Merlin. He had seen very little of John Woodnutt’s portrayal, and so instead of homing in on that, we suggested he play the role as a more serious version of Slartibartfast from The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, a character Alec was much more familiar with.

5. Which characters do you think were pulled off (for want of a better expression) most effectively in Famous for Retreating?

Hmm, that’s for the listeners to judge really, but we were all particularly pleased with Alec’s portrayal of Skarkill. He was a little hesitant at times – not surprising given how little acting experience he has – but there were other times when he hit his stride very well. It’s not saying much, as I’m no fan of Rayner Bourton, but I thought Alec’s handling of the squabbles between Skarkill and Elita was at least as good as what happened on TV.

6. Do you have other acting interests apart from the audio plays?

No. Sue used to be in a drama group up in Stirling, and Ricky has dabbled in ‘the profession’ quite a bit, especially when he was at college, but other than that, we’re all pretty green.

7. KM-Today hints strongly at a rivalry between Hordriss and Merlin, which manifests itself as an exchange of elaborate insults. Even though the two characters appeared in the show together for two years, it has often been noted (sometimes by me) that Hordriss took over Merlin’s role as “main goodie wizard” from series 5 onwards. Is the two characters’ possible rivalry for this role something that interests you?

Heh, you may be crediting KM-Today with slightly more depth than it really merits there, but yes, I have often wondered about it. The fact that there was no direct interaction between them on-screen is frustrating, as they seemed an obvious combination to create friction, which always makes for a good plot. See the showdown between Hordriss and Grimaldine in season 7? Hordriss clearly has issues with being proven not to be above everyone else after all, especially by a fellow sorcerer. And as Merlin clearly outranked Hordriss in the realm of sorcery, there must have been some jealousy there (as intimated when Hordriss was giving magic lessons in season 6).

8. Tell us about your plans for future audio plays.

Two plays are going to be recorded in late April, barring major hiccups, plus another sketch a little like KM-Today. We will be racing against the clock to get all three projects recorded, but we have extra recording time allocated and a larger cast this time around (I hope!), so it should be manageable.

The big priority, and by far the biggest project we’ve done to date, is the drama play that goes under the working title, When Five Tribes Go To War. This is set in the same continuity as Famous For Retreating, and will feature all the ‘big four’ villains. It’s a longer story than the first play, and with a darker, bleaker feel.

The second play is a comedy, which is therefore not part of continuity at all. Like KM-Today, it fuses Knightmare to a comedy series from the past. As a clue to what that series is, I can tell you that the title of the play is Yes, Dungeon Master.

The sketch is written by Andy Marshall (forum username Dark_Comet) and is called Bolt To The Head. It’s putatively set immediately after When Five Tribes Go To War, although again, it’s not really part of continuity. It’s based on a radio sketch done by the Canadian comedy act, The Frantics.

The scripts are all more or less ready to record, and because we’ve had a much more settled character line-up to work with, we’ve been able to edit them far more diligently. So the new round of plays should be less ragged around the edges than our previous efforts.

Hopefully that little lot’ll keep Knightmare fans happy for a while. If there’s sufficient demand for more, however, there are plans in place for a third play in the FFR series much further down the line. I can’t reveal much about those plans, but I can say it would definitely be the final instalment in that particular series.

However, other spin-off projects are under consideration. Ricky and Andy, with Liz Northcott, are writing a series of prose stories set in the same continuity as Famous For Retreating called The Fire And Ice Chronicles. There are plans, not yet confirmed, to make a couple of these as audio plays rather than as prose.

9. Do you have any other comments you’d like to make or interesting/amusing stories you’d like to share about the audio plays, Knightmare or even The Eye Shield?

My memories of the week of recording are largely a blur three years on. I have very distinct memories of how I felt at every given point – nervous, then intrepid, then empowered, then exhilarated etc – but I remember very little of the detail of what we did. I do remember distinctly that it was really satisfying work to do, and that there was a tremendous camaraderie between the members of the team.

 It was also a very valuable experience in terms of broadening our horizons, and I want to state now that I have learned four very important things from doing media projects like these; –

1) These projects are great fun to do.

2) They’re hell to organise.

3) You should never promise a list of four very important things you’ve learned when you can only remember three of them.

4) Errrrrmmmmm…

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