My Pop Life #228 : God Give Me Strength – Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach


God Give Me Strength – Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach

Now I have nothing
So God give me strength
Because I’m weak in her wake
And if I’m strong I might still break
And I don’t have anything to share
That I won’t throw away into the air
That song is sung out
This bell is rung out…


New Year’s Day   :   Drowning The Baby


this is verbatim the diary I wrote between January 1996 – July 31st 1998

Part Three

Easter Monday 1998

Spoke to Don McPherson today who said all the right things.  Separate the personal from the professional. It’s a marathon not a mile. Twat him in the face.  Things like that.  Park your revenge and then pick it up at a later date.  Don is famous (to me at least) for banging Steve Woolley’s head onto the floor of the restaurant in Groucho as he held his ears, something of which Don is “not proud”. I understand nevertheless.  I decide to rewrite the beginning as a hotel fire at Gatwick, and do so today.  Suri calls me and while we talk Jenny places a post-it note on the TV which reads ‘The Naked Clown’.  She is a genius.  Very hard for her that I am still involved in this cocksucker of a film.  But I am.  Don reminds me that my hurt can be redoubled if I get branded as a troublemaker – ‘he wanted his wife in the film’ etc.  He advises me to pick up the piece of shit from the floor, place it into my mouth and chew slowly, while pretending that it tastes nice.  Unfortunately he is right.  I park my revenge and take my cuddly toy out of the car, putting it where my body should be.  I’m so cute.

Wednesday April 15th 1998

Great day yesterday. For me.  Pleased with my handling of these amateur ego merchants.  I travel to London late Monday, meet Brian & Emma & Pete in the Giraffe Kennington where Guinness is still being served at 12.30am, Emma fiddling with the best. this means she was playing the violin in a public house  We retire for a bottle of wine and I end up sleeping at Pete’s after smoking 15 skunk/temple ball joints. 3 hours sleep. Up & at ’em.  A five minute walk to the office.  Slimmed down staff – plenty of desk space.  Uneasy atmosphere.  I wear my Alien 3 shirt “All other considerations secondary. Crew Expendable”.  yes I can be a cunt tha knows  I fiddle with the new beginning – fire in a hotel.  Some people seem to want the lone gunman scenario.  This will be where I part company with the film I predict.  We’ll see : it’s complicated now – David Thompson wants a draft tonight where the middle has been altered.  Granada want one where the beginning is changed.  Because of my late involvement last week on script matters I cannot do the BBC one in time, and in fact it seems that Suri has already written it !  When I leave the office at 1.30 ‘NYD by Ralph Brown’ is given to me – but I didn’t write it. This is the one I’m taking in to the office today. Actually bits of it aren’t bad – but other bits are execrable. even the temple ball skunk couldn’t quite conceal that The fact that it had been done at all is the most disappointing of course. Steve eventually arrives looking sheepish and tired.  Charles pulls him aside to ask “what is going on?” and they mutter darkly to each other for ten minutes.  Eventually I suggest that we go for a cigarette.  In the Giggling Sausage Steve updates me on the charade.  There are two scripts now – mine, and Suri’s. Granada have all but closed us down. Rumour has it that Pippa is to be sacked.  yes that’s how it reads in the diary – no editing here folks ! The BBC don’t mind the avalanche but can’t decide either way.  I say my piece: ‘This is wrong.  You and Suri have produced a draft – for what reason? You can’t just leave me out – you’re wrong – I nearly left you this last weekend.  Start producing the film. You’re in charge at the moment, start behaving like you are.’  And all that. Steve says – read this draft, then have a think, then read it again then we’ll all get together like we used to and thrash it out. let’s get back to killing this baby properly!  Are you hiring another writer I ask baldly?  Categorically not says Steven, you know the characters better than anyone. No I say.  Why would you hire someone when You and Suri will write it instead.  He is sheepish again.  What a bunch of amateur arse.  I then explain why the lone gunman is so pathetic as an opening.  I then leave the office and get stoned with Pete.  Meeting my new literary agent today to see what she’s like.

STOP PRESS Version of the script going to the BBC with lone gunman opening as I write this. Charlie in the office was foolish enough to let me know.

Monday April somethingth 1998

What a week that was. I read their draft (Suri’s notes, Steve’s writing) on the train – some good things, and my stuff remained largely untouched, especially the big scenes. I called Cameron to let him know that I hadn’t written the draft winging its way to him. (Cameron McCracken who is on board as a producer/financier expert). Then had a great meeting with Jessica Sykes at ICM and we went through the history, the betrayals, the backstabbing, the draft going out with my name on that I didn’t write.  “They can’t match my writing” I realised. We talked for an hour and a half with no interruptions – a good start to our relationship. She advised me to stay cool and Not Take My Name Off, as then I probably wouldn’t get paid.  And I deserve to be paid, gunman or no. Oh yes, I deserve to be paid.

I should explain here that nobody gets paid until the first day of principal photography which is when the first tranche of money gets released.  See My Pop Life #143, #144, #145 which document with unerring and occasionally amusing clarity my experience as a writer on another film called Red Light Runners. I didn’t get paid for that one, and neither did anyone else.  It was both less and more of a car crash than New Year’s Day. 




That night I stayed at Wembley to celebrate Mrs Jules 56th birthday.  Next morning Suri pages me to call immediately. I let him stew for an hour then it’s “call me back on my mobile, I’ll be outside on the pavement” and all sorts of bollocks.  When we finally talk Suri is full of apology, chagrin, pleading : “I was wrong and you were right, we’ve got to get the flavour and integrity of your script back, it’s slipping away and I need you to help me to fix it”.  Laughing quietly to myself I arrange to be in the office the next day (Friday) to discuss the script.  Steve also pages me and leaves a message at home, which I do not return. Next day I go into the office late – about 2pm – and we huddle in a corner, me, Steve and Suri – and they try to launch into the script – and I say hold it – I just want to say two things.  One – remember the Pardoner’s Tale which was in all of the early drafts of the screenplay, an English class at school with Mr Diamond discussing Chaucer’s story where we’d cut from the chalk cliff to a piece of chalk in his hand writing the word ‘Death’ on the blackboard – three chaps decide to go and Kill Death, find a pot of Gold, decide to wait until dark before moving it, meanwhile send one to find food, he poisons it but the other two kill him and eat the food afterwards. So they all die.  Suri was secretly smiling at this. And number two I said, said I ~ I will be credited on all office paperwork as Writer/Co-Producer as it says in my contract.  “I don’t want the chain of command to be confused” says Steve.  “If anyone asks me a producery question, I’ll tell them to ask you, OK?”   So that was that.  Point made I then pulled out my gear, my papers, tobacco and grass and rolled a phat one.  Charles wandered over “Is that a Camberwell Carrot?”  This is a no smoking office and building so I lit up and inhaled deeply.



Camberwell Carrot

Then on with the script.  The lone gunman idea was discussed for an hour.  My position was that I wouldn’t be writing that. Suri agreed and that was that. Other areas were discussed as we waited for Granada to phone and give us the go-ahead for another week.  Madness.  We talk about a ‘Don’t Look Now’ beginning where Shelley senses the avalanche. Great idea but will we miss the skiing? I think we will. Another joint.  Suri shares it. We get the OK from Granada – not quite a green light, that has to wait until Tuesday. Budget now £2.16million. Lots more cutting and pasting arguments to come.

Saturday drive to Shrewsbury in Mark Williams’ brand new Alfa Romeo, see the Albion lose 2-1 you’re Welsh and you know you are Sunday go to Wilf’s 1st birthday at Steyning then drive to London for a 6pm meeting with Clear Eye (on a Sunday?). We work for an hour then I leave him to tidy up the remains of the gunman from the script and go to Paulette’s to see A Respectable Trade on the TV, directed by Suri, starring Warren Clarke, Emma Fielding, Ariyon Bakare, Hugh Quarshie, me and Jenny Jules my wife. Jeez. Staying at Pete Sullivan’s tonight as we have a script meeting at 6.30am in the morning. This is to clear up any further disagreements the three of us have..then its the BBC Thursday to see if they’ll give us their quids. In the meantime we have to assume they won’t and cut scenes. Fuck me.

Wednesday night April 1998

Two very early morning starts and all day meetings on the script.  Knackered.  Jenny flew to New York today. Got to finish this draft today.  Timbuktu is currently in.  it’s a scene where our heroes go to Timbuktu for an ice cream  Saw video of the boys and the kids from the beginning.  Jill Hagger didn’t get the make-up job, Elaine Smith from Respectable Trade did.  Finished latest draft last night at 8pm and today took the day off – completely shattered. Green light still not there. The possibility looms of a postponement until the autumn/summer.

Tuesday April 28th

Had a meeting booked with Pippa at Granada today at 11am. Awoke at twenty to eleven, called Steve and said I wouldn’t be coming in. It’s a lovely sunny spring day in Brighton and I’m going out. Hurrah!

Wednesday May 6th

Cancelled two more meetings as the promised green light failed once again to materialise and some energy evaporated from the project.  Tuesday casting in North Acton for Sgt Bristow and Mr & Mrs James – Sharon D. Clarke and Burt Caesar came in, who we hope will do it.  Another Wednesday rolled around and Suri, Mark, Urvashi (Suri’s PA) and Robin the location manager met me at Cuckmere Haven visitor’s centre to see the meanders, the sea, the cliffs.  There is already a problem with Lewes County Council regarding shooting on Seaford Head due to the nature of the script – suicide, drugs etc.  We are not to identify the area in any shot, so after negotiating, reframing and sweet talking it seems we can use the area !  Placing a monument – a bell – on the cliff-top helps, as does painting out the cottages.



Paul Bhattacharjee

Tragically the actor Paul Bhattacharjee jumped from these cliffs in July 2013 after being declared bankrupt, a haunting legacy for all those who knew him, which included me and previous girlfriend Rita. I can’t write about Seaford Head, suicide and NOT mention Paul.  RIP. 

James Wilby meets Suri & I for lunch in the Golden Galleon and is immediately offered the part of Robin (Steven’s father, an MP) which is great as he is my first choice.  Then to Brighton and a saunter down the Palace Pier (where we can’t film for the above same reasons – strange that Brighton is worried about a film which portrays drugs!!) then under the pier, down to the West Pier then the Pavilion then back to Frances’ house for a cuppa.  We are all frustrated by a phone call from Steve which indicates that the light is indeed green but there are more cuts to be made. Steve needs to stop being so flexible.  We need a stand from now on, from everyone,  no more cuts!

Monday May 12th 1998

And so it came to pass that Granada asked if we could cut another £100,000 from the budget and it was not good, and we did not confer, yet Steven Cleary took it upon himself to say unto them “No”, for verily many cuts of this nature had already been suffered and we were upon the bone.  And thus the green light failed to materialise and the office was closed down and the weekend was spent calling people and telling them the news and many tears were shed.  But strangely the writer did not share their grief for he had been mighty unhappy with the project as constituted and did distrust Granada as Executives but even so he could see that it was a shame. And it meant that the months of debt would continue even unto the autumn or whenever the film was to be reconstituted with a certain Simon Channing Williams.



Simon Channing Williams

(Simon’s company Thin Man Films produced all of Mike Leigh’s films and had an office on Greek Street. A great producer and a decent guy.  Simon did eventually produce NYD.  He sadly passed away in April 2009)

It also meant that the emasculated version of the script would not be filmed and there was a chance to do the thing properly, and even, breathe it if you dare, with the wife of the writer back in her rightful position as Veronica so help me God. And the possibilities were good.  But the producer had not called the writer, no even unto the morning of the sixth day after the event for he was mighty depressed, yea, even unto the telephone. The director had made the writer aware of much of what had transpired, and the writer vowed to keep this relationship open and sweet, regardless of his personal feelings for the director, for verily it is good to separate the personal feelings from the professional.

May 12th 1998 Monday

Met Suri & Urvashi in “the office” and we left carrying boxes and vowing softly through our humiliation Never To Return. Lunched at NFT where Steve arrived late and without 2 million pounds. Walked back to Granada and up to Pippa’s office. She thinks that we can still put a deal together by asking everyone for another 20 grand each. Since we have now stopped  and would have to re-start at the beginning of pre-production this is not really very likely. The putative budget is back at 2.3 million, Steven said he wanted to explore other avenues meaning the substantial Channing Williams one and Pippa had to agree. She kept mentioning the script being “not quite there” which got right up my nose.  predictably  She is especially concerned that the 2 boys don’t jump off the cliff at the end “because they want to commit suicide”.  No, they jump because they said they would.  Pippa also slags off Lynda LaPlante’s KillerNet because of her supposed inability to “get down to the level of teenagers”.  I leap on this angrily. I have never considered teenagers to be “down” on any level below me or anyone else.  They are on the same level as us.  When I was a teenager I thought that and I still do. Extraordinary.

May 13th 1998 Tuesday



Leave the house at 11.30 in a cab, realise I have forgotten Filofax (it’s the 90s kids!) and Suri calls as I re-enter house to change meeting to 2.30.  I mow the lawn. Suri arrives at Groucho with birdshit on his hat but not on his head. Everyone proclaims this to be Good Luck and he then brandishes a green lighter he found in the pub the night before. Round to Greek Street and up to Simon Channing Williams’ office where he sports a splendid moustache but no beard.  Steve explains – Granada have already spent £75,000 on the film but that is included in our new budget which stands at £2.3 million.  Simon reaches for the calculator – “Let’s call it £2.4” Suri and I are immediately sold, Steve and Simon fiddle with figures for 5 minutes (Simon has a different Sales Agent with a higher quote) and they decide that if we get a UK sale from somewhere – C4 or the BBC – then Thin Man and David will fund the film completely. “You know I’ve always loved this script” says Simon.  The sun is still shining.

Wednesday May 20th 1998

Suri called yesterday and Jenny picked up “Hello Jenny it’s Suri” “RALPH PHONE!” heh heh how rude we all thought.  Anyway today’s brilliant idea was how about a cable car crash? I said No Suri we have discussed this A MILLION FUCKING TIMES YOU PEA-BRAINED MORON it’s an avalanche it’s an Act of God there are no repercussions no investigations no negligence actions no blame NUFFINK JUST GRIEF BABY PURE FUCKING SORROW got that?  Really got it now or SHALL I SHOUT IT INTO YOUR DIM LITTLE ORIFICE YOU SPINELESS EXCUSE FOR A CRUSTACEAN? FOR FUCK’S SAKE I AM WORKING WITH PYGMY SHREWS WITH NO DICKS GOD HELP ME ! !  There will be no script meetings until Simon Channing Williams has made a decision on THE MONEY.  FUCK THIS MOVIE.  I HATE IT SO MUCH.

clearly a touchy time for me then.  The diary of a fourteen year old bipolar wanker. To be fair to Suri and Steve, they’re trying to squeeze a story into a budget. I was in the luxurious position in some ways of purely telling a story. The idea to me of the avalanche being expensive wasn’t important.  I’d been through the alternatives and they all produced very different films. As I had explained. to be fair to me, many many times. 

Booked a hotel in Aix-en-Provence today for the 1998 World Cup having scored 4 tickets for England v Tunisia.  Hoorah.

Friday 22 May 1998

Pete informs me that Aix is the capital of the French fascists.  Marvellous !  No meeting yesterday – waited until we’d heard from SCW and… it’s a yes… Now we have to extricate gently from Granada.  Steve & Charlie have gone into a huddle to discuss the best “deal”. Arse to that let’s get this creaky cranky fucked up marriage-busting turd of a show on the knobbing ROAD!  Suri tells me he cannot call me at home anymore because of the abuse he receives from Jenny – ‘cocksucker’ being the latest overheard remark. diddums He can call my pager instead.

Wednesday 27th May 1998


A Voyage To Lilliput

shit this is going to get worse isn’t it

Suri arrives with Muttley or so he calls Urvashi this morning. It is an indication of something that he has to have an assistant for a meeting between him Steve & myself. An indication that he is a twat, for example. He gets very heated with Steve over the possibility that Granada might need “another month” to put the deal together. We all say No to that, but the problem is that they own it, and they could become difficult and delay us again. Pippa will not allow us to use any of the other co-producers – Newmarket Films, British Screen, the French at Canal+ or even the BBC as she started the dialogue there. (or at least continued it). So a face-saving moment is underway.

Meantime script notes are produced by Naked Clownface and we argue over point one and point two for about an hour when Suri or rather Muttley has to take his car off the meter.  So we arrange to meet again on Friday, when I plan to SMASH.  I see out of the corner kick of my eye that Suri’s notes are far-reaching & radical and I just want to rip them up and stuff them down his throat as the contents are just what the last person who read the script told him. “Steven’s character is under-developed” gets a whole section to itself.  I am so furious in the meeting that I do not speak for ages just tap my feet and smoke and Muttley takes notes. I finally realise what we are trying to solve on points one & two and suggest that Both Boys want to commit suicide, or rather, don’t really know one way or the other….in other words, what I wrote three years ago.

I’m a fucking righteous prick by this point clearly

I am totally at the end of my patience with this procedure and the small people nibbling at my ankles are about to get stepped on. I only have to flex my bicep to release my arm from their puny ropes – just wait til I get angry you midget cloud! I will smite thee and all thy progeny! There will be wailing and gnashing and grinding and blood.

June 5th Saturday 1998

Took a week off.  Meeting produced further irritation and no promised SMASH unfortunately but it was pretty tense and irritable and I told Suri I was offended by his notes. Steve was saying stuff like “well we have to discuss this” and I was “sure, let’s but I disagree” and basically it was crap.  Agreed to do another draft but have no intention of doing so until we have more news…

World Cup tickets confirmed, we’re off in a week, driving down to Marseilles for England v Tunisia….the World Cup now dominates all thinking and feeding and drinking habits and I am strangely nervy and jumpy today thinking about it.  Can’t wait.

Wednesday July 31st 1998


The World Cup came and went – a separate diary – in fact I did put in a new draft just before we left, it was a tweak no more, dialogue for Veronica, Geraldine & Robin and now it all seems so far away from me, small insignificant people scrabbling in blancmange, specks, dust. Finally it doesn’t matter.

Surely this is a blatant lie.  ‘It doesn’t matter’.  Jeez.  What are you saying>?  Lies

In three more days Rebecca my sister will marry John, and I will drive her as requested to the Registry Office.

Suri and I had dinner on Monday.  He wanted to know how we could resolve it. I said we couldn’t, short of offering Jenny the part, which I knew wasn’t going to happen. He said “Ralph, look, I know Jenny and I will never be friends again, but me and you – we’re all right aren’t we?”

I think I was gobsmacked frankly. I finally understood my mis-reading of the man we had considered to be our friend, who had slept at our house, who we had both worked with, the man I had given the gift of my first precious screenplay. 

“We’re all right though aren’t we?”  

He wanted to know how we could proceed as friends.  I explained in short, easy-to-understand sentences why this was not going to happen. Why we were not going to have a friendship going forward of any kind. It was civilized (Groucho Club, upstairs) and low-key – in other words, no disagreement occurred, no voice was raised, no anger or frustration erupted. I drank white wine, gin, vodka, water and in a low serious voice outlined my year so far. I was completely honest, and announced that I would have no more to do with the project New Year’s Day unless asked, but added an important coda that I felt, as the writer, that I would be asked regularly for my opinion.  But even so I felt released dear reader, unshackled from the lead weight that has been dragging me down down down and I let it go.  It sank.  So did Suri.  He claimed that my friendship was important to him.  The feeling was not reciprocated. We parted.

I shall probably never see New Year’s Day, the film that I wrote.

I feel cleansed and free.

I can’t hold on to her
God give me strength
When the phone doesn’t ring
And I’m lost in imagining
Everything that kind of love is worth
As I tumble back down to the earth
That song is sung out
This bell is rung out
She was the light that I’d bless
She took my last chance of happiness
So God give me strength
God if she’d grant me her indulgence and decline
I might as well
Wipe her from my memory
Fracture the spell
As she becomes my enemy
Maybe I was washed out
Like a lip-print on his shirt
See, I’m only human
I want him to hurt
I want him
I want him to hurt


Well thanks for bearing with me readers as I dug over the rank soil of this awful era.  I am so glad that I kept a diary for I had erased almost all of this from my memory.  When I was house-clearing in Brighton last month (August 2019) I found some papers and this was among them.  It contained some of the greatest professional and personal pain I have experienced as an adult, much of which has been directed back at myself for trusting the wrong people with my precious writing.  But a mistake is an opportunity for learning, because life goes on.  I will gather my forces and rise.

The song for this chapter is from a magnificent album that was released in September 1998 just after this blog ends.  It is a pinnacle release for both Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach who collaborated on the songs, on the words, on the music.  Beautifully written, orchestrated and sung, it was that October when we scored tickets to see the show at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles.  Lulu Norman took my ticket because I never made it due to work commitments. It wasn’t because New Year’s Day was finally shooting.  On the Isle of Wight.  That would be the following spring.

God Give Me Strength. Elvis Costello’s finest vocal performance :

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