From the misadventures of the quintessentially awkward, Reliant Robin-hating, Englishman, to a chancer on the run with stolen mob money, Robin Driscoll places larger-than-life characters in extraordinary situations. Now, after writing scripts for global sensation Mr Bean since the 90s, he’s now created his first novel. In Rough Music he brings together corporate culture, a Russian hit-man, and a diverse array of locations, in a glorious and witty romp. “I know people would expect me to have written a funny book,” he tells me. “I ended up finding it easier to write what I like to read, which is history thrillers, crime and espionage. But I couldn’t help but get some comedy into it.” His new character, Rab MacBain, has stolen money from a group of powerful gangsters. In return, they’ve dispatched a hitman to unleash retribution. Seeking sanctuary, MacBain heads for his childhood home, but trouble is close behind.
Relishing the new challenge of creating a full novel, Driscoll sent his first few chapters to a friend – who in turn helpfully suggested the established script-writer couldn’t write. “I was quite indignant. I know story structure and I know how to develop characters. In ten minutes, he’d pointed out how different script writing was from writing prose.” Taking a fresh approach, he grew to appreciate the finer points of literary narrative and how to enable a deeper insight into his characters motives and ambitions.
The main point he learnt, regardless of whether a story’s protagonist starts as hero or anti-hero, they need to undergo a form of change. “Personally, I prefer the anti-hero. The Cary Grants – those sort of characters…. The definition of anti-hero is a hero with no heroic qualities.” He offers that a plot details what happens, where as a story follows a character as they progress through those circumstances. “It’s how they change and how their emotions are affected. The decisions they make and how they get over wrong decisions, that is the story.” He has another book going into production soon, which has required another round of fact-finding and planning. Amongst its acknowledgments he voices his admiration for writers who conduct forensic research. “I do have a very good friend, a retired detective inspector, who’s great for research. It’s also a good excuse to meet up with him once a week in a country pub to discuss the book. It’s been great fun.” Beyond this, he compares his own preparations to sitting in a darkened room with a torch perusing his picture postcards. He jokes that he has to thank the internet for revealing hotel interiors and how long it takes to travel from A to B. Growing up in Sompting, Driscoll has called Sussex ‘home’ for most of his life. “Whenever I was on tour, I’d always feel uncomfortable about being away from the Downs.” He’s justifiably proud of his past achievements, but not afraid to be gently self-effacing about his career. At school, he was labelled a remedial student – his love of wordplay and storytelling coming a little later in life. “They used to call us slow learners. It was much later, when I left school, that I started reading and enjoying stories.” He went on to cofound Cliffhanger Theatre Company, touring the country for 15 years. The experience he gained led to a writing jobs, including work on hit BBC sketch show Alas Smith and Jones.
A long association with Mr Bean started after he heard it had been fully commissioned and sent in some ideas. “I was called to a meeting and they said: ‘Robin, you seem to be the only one who gets this.’” Since its original broadcast in 1990, the show has become one of Britain’s most recognisable cultural exports – rubbing shoulders with the Windsor family, Adele and, err… Benny Hill. An amalgam of Chaplin, French mime and Rowan Atkinson’s pre-teen self, Bean’s exploits have been seen in over 200 countries and spawned two hit films, an animated series and an appearance at the 2012 Olympic games opening ceremony. Not bad for a mumbling accident-prone, introvert. The global success of the character is undoubtedly due to its minimal dialogue and almost universal appeal. “If you read a comedy script you can laugh. But if I showed you a Mr Bean script it’d be dull as dishwater. It’s down to Rowan’s comic performance and the way he translates physically what you write. It’s basically like writing a manual.”
So where does Bean’s difficult relationship with the iconic three wheeled Reliant Robin come from? The source of the show’s long destructive attitude towards the car stretches back to the pilot episode. Driscoll had seen the 70’s wobble wagon mocked and decided to keep running with the gag “I just went along with that idea. Whenever I could, I’d come up with a way to screw up the Reliant. I do remember when I was 18, I told my dad I was going to buy a motorbike. He said: ‘Please don’t. I’ll buy you a car.’ He took me round his mate’s place and it was a powder blue Robin Reliant. I was like: ‘No. It’s OK!’”