The RTS Student Masterclasses drew a crowd of more than 300 to London in early November to hear four of the industry’s top talents talk about their careers and offer first-hand advice on how to make a start in telly.
Kenton Allen, one of the biggest names in British comedy, offered the masterclass in scripted entertainment. The CEO of Big Talk is the producer of countless award-winning shows, including The Royle Family and Friday Night Dinner.
Allen said a producer is “first in and last out on any show”. He continued: “[You are] the mad person that thinks you can get something on the television… You raise the money, pull all the crew together, make the show and deal with the problems when things go wrong …
“You’re there right to the bitter end until the show’s on air… Then you try to get the show recommissioned… You’re sort of the custodian of other people’s creative endeavours and ambitions.”
Allen began his working life in radio and was happy to stay there until Jonathan Ross asked him to work on his new Channel 4 chat show.
A change of tack took him to Granada TV in Manchester to make entertainment shows, where he met Caroline Ahearne and Craig Cash, the writing team behind the The Mrs Merton Show and, subsequently, The Royle Family. Allen produced series of both shows.
A key part of the producer’s job is working with writers and Allen has worked with some of the best, including Robert Popper, the creator of Friday Night Dinner, and Stephen Merchant on current comedy/drama The Outlaws.
Discussing the producer’s relationship with writers, Allen said: “Fundamentally you believe in the writer and the story. They’ve got [to have] something to say about something – it’s not just jokes.”
“The ultimate judge is the audience… you can just do your best guess of what is funny based on experience and taste.”
Comedy, Allen concluded, should “punch up, if you’re going to use comedy as a device to shine light on hypocrisy or whatever you think is wrong with the world… not punch down on people who don’t need to have any more shit sent their way.”
The masterclass in scripted entertainment was chaired by Helen Scott.