Face to face with screenwriter Rob Gittins

Face to face with screenwriter Rob Gittins

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By Ed Gove,
Wednesday, 10th February 2016
Rob Gittins. EastEnders
Rob Gittins walks us through his daily routine

“I have never had a proper job in my life!" says Rob Gittins, the storyteller behind some of the most popular shows on television. 

"Before my grandad died he used to ask me what I was doing and this pained expression would come across his face and he’d say ‘it’s no job for a grown man.’

“I still think it’s not quite the job for a grown man. We just sit and play.”

He is best known as the longest-standing writer on popular soap EastEnders, having worked on the show since 1985, writing over 250 episodes.

Although you may not know his name, Rob Gittins has been writing stories for TV and radio for over 30 years.

More recently he has been writing novels, including popular 2013 crime thriller Gimme Shelter.

In addition to his work on EastEnders, Rob has written for The Indian Doctor, Casualty, The Bill, The Story of Tracey Beaker, Stella and more.

His big break came on radio however after he heard that the BBC reads every radio play submitted to it.

The first of his plays to make it to air was a 15 minute radio drama: "It went out at quarter to midnight on a Friday night" he remembers. 

"My own mum came over to listen to it with me and fell asleep before the end!

“To this day, I’ve never met anybody in the world apart from me who actually heard it."

And yet he says “I don’t think there’s anything I have ever done since which gave me as much pleasure as that one play.” 

Rob Gittins has written over 250 episodes of BBC soap EastEnders

From that first professional credit, Rob’s career grew until he joined the writing staff of new BBC soap EastEnders and today he is the longest serving writer on the series. But he claims it is not so different from how it was at the beginning.

Tony Holland, the original creator of EastEnders insisted that all the writers title their episode, despite that title never appearing on screen.

Rob wrote the hour-long 30th anniversary episode of EastEnders which aired last year. Although the title never appears on screen, he called that episode 'Look Back in Anger', after the Oasis song.

“I usually use song titles. The old Beatles one, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, was the most recent episode that I did” he adds.  

When it comes to writing, the EastEnders team like to think ahead. 

“At the planning stage, we’re usually about 6 months ahead at least." Adding "we storyline Christmas in June”, 

“They have taken us into a room in Elstree decked out with Christmas trees and holly and tinsel and given us Christmas hats. It doesn’t work.

“Maybe that’s why EastEnders is so miserable at Christmas; all the writers are going ‘What the f---? I’m not fooled’.”



You’d think that after so many years of experience, writing would come easily, however Rob disagrees.

“There’s never been a single episode where I haven’t sat down and thought: ‘I don’t know what to do. This is where they are going to find me out. This is when they say: he’s not very good, is he’”

It sounds like a stressful way to work, but Rob is under no delusions.

He said “You’ve got to put it in context, no one’s going to die.

“If the worst comes to worst and I write a really bad episode of EastEnders then somebody’s going to have a bit of a shit time watching it for half an hour.”

“But it is important… You want to make it work.… Maybe that’s the thing: if you do care about it, you don’t want it to fail.”

“Maybe actually, if I just sit down now and think it’s a piece of piss, maybe that’s when it doesn’t work.”

He has no plans to leave the show, however he is also working on other projects.

"I’m meeting my radio producer next week because there’s a story that I really want to do. He likes it. We’re gonna meet next week to do it."

His 2013 novel Gimme Shelter about Witness Protection Officer Ros Gilet was recently optioned for television by TV production company Wall to Wall. 

The novel was the first that Rob had written and has since been followed by Secret Shelter, The Poet and the Private Eye, about Dylan Thomas, and Investigating Mr Wakefield, published this year.

It all seems like a lot of work for a man who is yet to get a proper job. 

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“I have never had a proper job in my life!" says Rob Gittins, the storyteller behind some of the most popular shows on television.