Bob describes HTV West at that time as like being in a family. “During productions we often went for supper at Floyds. Dave and I were extras in most of the things we did so we knew everyone in the production, which was great. Patrick Dromgoole was the kind of the guy who liked to have the writing team - "With the unit" so that as writers we felt valued with everybody else.
Shoestring with Trevor Eve
Eventually however, they parted ways amicably and Bob was invited by Robert Banks Stewart to write an episode of Shoestring. He then became script editor: “a move towards being part of the process rather than just writing.” Of Robert Banks Stewart, Bob says: “He’s a very hard taskmaster and taught me a hell of a lot and I’m forever grateful to him. There was such a pressure on – sometimes we’d have to rewrite an entire script over the weekend. But some of those total rewrites came out better than some of the ones that we’d worked up for ages. That’s the way it goes.”
Then came the ITV strike and Shoestring hit the top viewing figures and Bob found he was suddenly in demand.
Bob Baker working from his cupboard at HTV rejecting Laurie Booth's script !!!
“So,” he says, “I decided to work with Patrick Dromgoole as the overall HTV script editor. That meant quite a lot. Along with my three readers (one of whom was Tony Robinson) I had to read, comment and reply on every scrap of script or idea that came in, whether it came on lavatory paper or from an agency wrapped up in ribbons. If we found something that had particular merit we’d pass it up to Patrick. Along with that I had a special brief to encourage as many West Country writers we could find. We helped finance a few little things like lunch time theatre and we’d end up filming some, just keeping things going.
“But, remembering my beginnings, it got to the point where I said if I don’t help these people let the steam out, give them something where their talent can be recognised then my job is pointless.
So Patrick gave me a late night half hour slot and we made Function Room in which we had a one room set and the writers had to make something of it. Of the seven writers eventually broadcast, one is now a professional television writer, one writes for fringe theatre in New York and one has done very well writing novels. In fact I was outside a cinema not so long ago, by a poster for Master and Commander and there was his name in the writing section. So of seven, three became professional writers and I was very pleased about that.
Bob also found time to devise and edit three Into the Labyrinth, children’s sci-fi series. He left HTV in 1990. “That was the year we did a film, Succubus (starring the late Barry Foster) that Dave and I had written some years ago. It was a French co-production. Dave and I got together to do the rewrite and toddled around in France with Patrick who directed it.”
It was the year of the franchise renewal and with ITV fragmenting; the old order was breaking up. The broadcasters wanted to take programmes from outside sources. With a firm commitment from HTV, Bob was encouraged to set up his own company.
With his new business partner, Roger Crago, he set up an office in the middle of Bristol and got involved in a film in Spain: “There we met various people and there was some suggestion of making a film in Moscow so my partner and I went to Moscow to talk about a deal. On our return we saw a local newspaper in the stand and it said ‘bad news for local film company’. We thought ‘ooh wonder who that is?’ And It was us! HTV had pulled out completely and left us standing there with absolutely nothing! We never found out why.”
The film turned out to be a surprise success, but the attempted follow up was an expensive disaster.
“I lost absolutely everything and you can feel that gnawing in your stomach: will the distributor give you that extra money and will it just be going into a black hole… it’s awful. Fortunately, at the nadir of that period I met a man called Nick Park.”
Bob had come into contact with Aardman Animations when he was at HTV but it was a producer at BBC2 that felt Nick could use the guidance of a writer. We ended up making The Wrong Trousers, and then we did A Close Shave, then the feature film "Curse Of The Were-Rabbit.”A BAFTA and Oscar winning movie.
Bob has written for other media: The Millennium Dome spectacular Ovo with Peter Gabriel in 2000, and the stage adaptations A Grand Night Out and Watership Down. He has also developed teaching materieals. For example, with the Space Museum in Leicester: “Kids solve problems – they’re on a moon of Saturn and bang there’s a problem and the kids have all the data stored to solve it or the spacemen all die.”
Bob clearly enjoys educational projects. He worked closely with Oxford University Press on their English as a Foreign Language programme.
The sheer variety of Bob’s credits is amazing: Z Cars, Sky, M+M, Item, Bergerac, Jazz Detective, The Curse of The Were-Rabbit… too many to mention. Bob clearly loves all genres: “I’ll do anything. I’ve done documentaries, teaching, I’ve even done comedy. But my forte is crime. The Wrong Trousers started as a domestic drama but moves into crime and I loved that. Science fiction is a favourite but I love doing everything. I’ve just written an historical thing set in 1780 that’s doing the rounds at the minute. I’ve done a lot for older children – Kafka for kids and I agree whole heartedly with onetime Dr Who Editor Bob Holmes who used to say, ‘Let's frighten the little buggers to death’. That’s my philosophy too.
With K9, a new Wallace and Gromit film, and a new writing/production partner , Bob is very busy. I asked him where he actually writes. At one point he and Dave Martin wrote together in a converted barn and regularly lunched in the convivial surroundings of the Gloucestershire pub we are now meeting in. Now Bob tends to write in his Gloucestershire shed: “I still paint so it’s my studio. I write a bit then just turn around and paint a bit then do a bit more writing. It’s a nice environment where I feel relaxed and it’s very cool except at the moment it’s damp and bloody horrible. It’s been raining for about two weeks non-stop. My shed takes me away from the house. Now I’m working on several projects.”
It’s clear that Bob genuinely loves being a writer. “The worst things are the deadlines,” he tells me. “I don’t think I’ve ever missed one but they’re always looming over the next horizon. But those weekend trials with Robert Banks Stewart were such a good lesson. You can’t have writers block, you just can’t. So if I am stuck I just write something. Then you can at least do something with it. I’ve never stopped writing.”
Nick Park's, Curse Of The Were-Rabbit