Lee Pressman - 25th Anniversary Interview

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To celebrate the silver anniversary of T-Bag, I've asked Lee Pressman some intriguing questions about the show. These questions have been submitted by members of the Forum and visitors to the website and you've come up with some brilliant questions. Thanks for letting me have your questions, I've picked some of the best questions and hope you enjoy the interview.

Lee kindly replied to the questions, his replies bring an insight into the programme we all loved as a child (and still love). Many thanks to Lee for his interview and his continued support and input into the website. Lee's help and assistance with the website over these past few years has been appreciated so much and I just want to thank him for his ongoing support and generous words of wisdom.

The interview is below, in his own words...

Subsequent series of T-Bag are more sophisticated and detailed in comparison to the first series. In retrospect if you could change one thing of Wonders in Letterland, what would it be and why?

The director! Apart from that we were blessed with a wonderful cast, a fantastic costume designer, a talented composer, and a very creative designer.

In those early days everybody was making it up as they went along – it was cheap and cheerful. But even in that not very sophisticated looking first series there was actually something pretty sophisticated starting to grow. Despite the wobbly hardboard sets and crude direction the T. Bag spirit, that was to endure for the next nine years, was beginning to bloom and blossom.

So, in retrospect, apart from the obvious, I wouldn’t want to change anything.

During the earlier series, T-Bag often referred to herself as ‘The High-T’. At what stage was it decided that the T. Set was a force for good – was this at the start of writing Revenge of The T. Set or had this been planned during the earlier series?

I have to admit that there was no grand plan. Unlike J.K. Rowling who plotted all of her seven Harry Potter books before she wrote a single word, Grant and I were muddling along, making it up on the hoof. It was completely spontaneous. When we started writing ‘Wonders in Letterland’, T.Bag herself wasn’t even the focus of the series – she was simply a character who inhabited the ‘T’ Square. As we began to write more she rapidly moved centre stage and before long she had become the star of the show. We didn’t know whether there would be a second series or a third or fourth so we never really worked up a backstory until we needed one. If The T. Set was first mentioned during ‘Revenge of The T. Set’ then that’s probably the moment we invented it.

Turn on to T-Bag features alterations to the formula of the previous series (new treasure hunting girl, T-Shirt's story rather than the girl's, small changes to the treasure hunt with T. Bag getting her own plot, more spoof); were these deliberate changes and were you happy with them?

We had no part in changing the girl – we were simply informed that it was happening. Are there really that many alterations to the formula? I don’t remember thinking ‘Let’s change this. Let’s scrap that.’ I assume that the more we wrote the more comfortable we felt in pushing everything that little bit further. We certainly enjoyed giving T. Shirt and T. Bag more to do. And as ‘Turn On To T. Bag’ was a series concerned with TV it gave us the liberty to do more outright spoofs such as the Bubble Boy episode.

At one point you were writing for T-Bag, Spatz and Mike & Angelo during the early 90’s, was there ever a time when this was just too confusing?

Not really. They were all three very different shows. I suppose if you analyse them certain favourite themes (e.g. backstage stories) would emerge. It was certainly fun moving actors around from one series to the next. Anthony O’ Donnell definitely featured in all three, Matt Zimmerman naturally, Alex Bartlette - many others were in two – Liz Estensen, Kerry Shale, John Savident, etc. It would be a great exercise to draw up a chart and monitor which actor went where and when.

Many of the episodes had coming up and next week teasers with a voice-over, were these written by you or the scenes selected by you, if not who selected and put these together? Before John Hasler started the voice-over on these (from Rings of Olympus onwards) who did the voice-overs?

Grant and I selected the scenes and wrote the scripts. Before John did the voiceovers they were performed by our esteemed director, Mr Leon Thau, (whom I have to admit was a very talented comic actor).

Out of the nine anchor characters (The Gardener, Hickory-Dickory Dock, Major Happy, Professor Sparkes, The High-T Lady, Captain Cockle, Athena, Diggory and Granny Bag) which one was you favourite at the time and has this changed now. Which out of these were you most surprised at them being cast?

Well Jim Norton was (and still is) a brilliant actor. I didn’t know him at the time, but soon recognised his talent and versatility. Roy Barraclough was a well-known comedy actor, who had been delighting the nation for years in Coronation Street, and in a drag double act with Les Dawson. He proved hilarious with some wonderfully scathing put downs of Leon’s ‘state of the ark’ special effects. Tony Haygarth, another well established thespian was fabulous as Major Happy. And let us not forget the wonderful Denise Coffey. She was the only one we actually cast ourselves, and was of course sensational.

Who was I most surprised at being cast? Roy Barraclough I guess. Surprised and delighted. One curious little fact – when the very first episode of ‘Wonders in Letterland’ was broadcast, the presenter who introduced the series to the world for the very first time was the actor who would later go on to play Professor Sparkes.

The T-Bag series has some subtle in-jokes and references to previous episodes, was this intentional from the beginning as an attempt to widen the viewing to adults as well as children?

As I said already, nothing was intentional from the beginning. We just made it up as we went along. If it made us laugh it was in. We simply wrote stuff that amused us. It was a wonderful excuse to revisit all our favourite movies and TV series. To pastiche everything from Carry On films to Laurel and Hardy. From Dallas to Bilko. If there was something funny to be had then we went for it. And because the stories were so strong we could afford to throw in some more grown up gags without losing the younger members of the audience.

And I guess we did start to spoof ourselves in later series – the Binbag in Space episode springs to mind where T. Shirt is reading the TV listings, hundreds of years into the future, and series 857 (or whatever) of T. Bag is still playing.

In the later series (namely Sunstones of Montezuma and Take off with T. Bag) the scripts often referred to places in the ‘real world’ (Birmingham, Milton Keynes, Sunderland etc), was this an in-joke to see how many places could be mentioned or an attempt to take the story into the real world and away from the curiosity shop?

No. It wasn’t an in-joke. There was no moment when we decided to use real names. No special significance in Birmingham or Sunderland. But Milton Keynes always sounds funny.

Terry Trower wrote much of the music and songs for the show, which of his songs is your personal favourite? Can you tell us about the circumstances that led to Tim Whitnall write the ‘Marshmellow Monday’ song from Sunstones of Montezuma?

By this series we had pretty much stopped featuring songs. This particular episode required a trippy, psychedelic, hippie type of number. I can’t remember who suggested that Tim might be the person to do it (probably the producer, Charles Warren) but it was an inspired thought. We had been working with Tim for years on ‘Mike & Angelo’ and were aware of what a talented composer he was. I asked him to write a sort of cross between ‘I Am The Walrus’ and ‘Hole In My Shoe’ and he responded magnificently.

One little in-joke amidst the nonsensical lyrics is when Ed Banger sings ‘It’s getting quite weird, and I’m growing a beard, it’s Moustachioed Monday’. As T. Shirt grew ever older and larger we had started to feature scenes of him shaving in the T. Room.

Raymond Childe created the costumes for the first eight series, why was he not involved in the last series, Take off with T-Bag? What did you think of the costumes designed for the last series by Jo Allman.

Hmm. Good question. I have no idea. Looking back it seems like a crazy decision.

After T-Bag you wrote for the revival of The Tomorrow People, did you notice the similarities with T-Bag at the time (being able to disappear and reappear, children protagonists and several of the T-Bag cast reappearing in Tomorrow People episode)? How do you think writing T-Bag helped (or hindered) writing for The Tomorrow People?

There weren’t really that many similarities. The Tomorrow People was for an older audience, it wasn’t a comedy, and it was shot on film, on location. The disappearing/appearing thing I guess was a common factor. It was also a problem when we were writing the show as it was difficult to put our heroes in danger when all they had to do was pop off out of the scene.

Fremantle have been planning digital download for a while now, what do you think has caused such a long delay and when do you think that a release will be forthcoming?

AAAAARRRRGGGHHHH! I have been banging my head against a vicious circle for so many years over this. Fremantle promise that there will be a release – then you hear nothing for years. I wish I could say that I knew the answer. I will continue to badger them relentlessly as I have been doing for the last eight years. At this rate by the time the series appears on DVD all its fans will be in retirement homes.

What do you think the future holds for T-Bag?

Fingers, legs and eyes crossed for a digital download/DVD sometime this century. A re-make would be wonderful. And one of these days we’ll get down to starting that 25th anniversary book I recklessly mentioned some time back.

T-Bag celebrates its 25th anniversary since its initial broadcast, how would you sum up the whole experience in just one word?


What current projects/scripts/programmes are you working on?

I work extensively in animation these days and I’ve been heavily involved with Aardman writing ‘Shaun the Sheep’ for the last three years. I’m currently head writer on a new BBC series ‘Rastamouse’.

Grant and I have recently written ‘Genie in the House - The Movie’, and we are developing a new fantasy/comedy series called ‘Switch’.

Lee Pressman