Creative Scriptwriting and Copywriting

Once you can fake that…

In copywriting, scriptwriting, writing on January 11, 2010 at 8:40 pm

In a sassy, sceptical, cynical world, sincerity can be hard to write.

Scriptwriting manuals will advise you to steer clear of characters who mean what they say. “On the nose” dialogue supposedly denotes shallow amateurism, and of course it’s true – most of us stumble our way through life via a conversational cocktail of shiftiness, hesitancy and outright deceit.

For businesses, overdoing the sincerity can make you seem po-faced, pretentious or cloying. Horribly insincere.

But there are times when only speaking from the heart will do.

Terry Wogan’s on-air farewell after a twenty-eight year span on (and off then on again) the BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show was one of the most controlled and effective pieces of writing I heard last year and strikes me as getting the sincere thing absolutely right. [Note to self: calling it “the sincere thing” does not sound very sincere]. I think this is masterful. (If you’re outside the UK and don’t know the voice, you have to imagine it spoken in warm soft Irish baritone, with a crackle that’s one part dodgy FM reception to ten parts pent-up emotion…) –

“This is it then – this is the day I have been dreading, the morning when you and I come to the parting of the ways, the last Wake Up To Wogan. It wasn’t always thus. For the first 12 years it was the plain old Terry Wogan Show and you were all Twits, the Terry Wogan is Tops Society.

“When I returned to the bosom of the family you all became Togs, Terry’s Old Geezers and Gals. It’s always been a source of enormous pride to me that you have come together in my name, that you are proud to call yourself my listeners, that you think of me as a friend, someone that you are close enough to laugh with, to poke fun at and just occasionally when the world seemed just a little too cruel, to shed a tear with.

“The years together with you have not only been a pleasure but a privilege. You have allowed me to share your lives with you. When you tell me how important I have been in your lives it’s very moving, you have been every bit as important in mine.

“We have been though at least a couple of generations together, for many of you your children like mine have children of their own.

“Your support for Children In Need has been consistent and magnificent… If anybody embodies the generous, warm spirit of this country it’s you, my listeners.

“I am not going to pretend that this is not a sad day – you can probably hear it in my voice – I am going to miss the laughter and the fun of our mornings together.

“I am going to miss you, until we are together again in February have a happy Christmas. Thank you, thank you for being my friend.”

There’s a lot to admire there. It’s emotional, but not quite mawkish.  It’s absolutely in the Terry tone of voice (“It wasn’t always thus.”), but it establishes its sincerity by steering clear of what’s maybe the most typically Wogan verbal tic of all:

Normally, with Wogan, there’s an undercurrent of self-deprecation and banter – a glint in the eye: sincere, sincere, sincere, undercut. But note that he doesn’t even  attempt the smallest half- joke (Not “I’m going to miss the laughter and the fun of our mornings together – even if I won’t miss the sight of Deadly [newsreader Alan Dedicoat ].” Not even “I’m going to miss the laughter and the fun of our mornings together – even if I won’t miss getting up so early.”) This is too important even for jokes.

It also wins points for me as a copywriter by including what seems like “a Message from the Management” (Try The New Guy) but written in a language and a point-of-view that sounds totally genuine.

“I know you are going to welcome Chris Evans with the same generosity of spirit that you have shown me”

That’s really good. He doesn’t ask his listeners to give Evans a chance, he knows his listeners are generous characters who will give him a chance. You’d have to be a hard-hearted TOG not to tune in this morning to hear Evans’ first day on air.

And I mean that most sincerely, folks…

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