Musical Theatre Blind Date: Charles & Noam debate when to take their ‘stop’

Charles Garland and Noam Galperin take on the mysterious closed station of Aldwych. Charles gives us unique insight into the lyricists dilemma – when do you stop writing?

IS IT FINISHED? by Charles Garland

When do you hang up your pencil and say “It’s finished”?

I’ve never met a writer who was completely satisfied with his work. In fact, it has been suggested that if that should ever happen, that writer would never need to commit another word to paper – their life’s work would be done.

Jimmy Perry, the creator and co-writer of ‘Dad’s Army’ wrote the lyrics to the well-known and oft repeated signature song ‘Who do you think you are kidding Mr Hitler?’ (Music by Derek Taverner) It was immortalised by Bud Flanagan, the last thing he recorded before he died in 1968. Jimmy once told me how cross he was with himself because the emphasis in the line ‘Mister Brown goes off to town on the eight twenty-one’ is incorrectly on the definite article. He said ‘I notice it every time I hear it’. And now, so do I. How reassuring it is to know that everybody makes mistakes.

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However, there has to come a time when, often with some reluctance, a writer needs to admit that their creation is not likely to improve any more following the thirty-seventh re-write and nine weeks of tweaking. The old adage that ‘it’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive safely’ couldn’t be more appropriate. There’s safety in sitting in your own home or office, alone with your pencil. The fear, perhaps, is that when the novel, script, screenplay, libretto or lyric is handed over, it is open to criticism and dissection by whoever should chance upon it. How often have we heard the sarcastic comment ‘I could have written a better script than that’ (insert your own genre). This is particularly popular with television viewers who have seldom written more than a Christmas card since they left school with a C in English.

I finished what may be the final re-write of my lyric at five to two in the morning of delivery day. I realised that there were still several hours to go, but knew that, for now, it was time to call it a day (night).