Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Enigma News

In case you haven't seen already, it has been revealed that Franco used the Enigma Machine in the Spanish Civil War.

But it may be worth pausing to consider for a moment our country's fascination with the Enigma machine. Why is it such a popular icon - and any stories about Enigma machines are immediately snapped up by the Enigma machine. Why? Here are a few reasons:

1. The Enigma machine represents a tangible, enduring, inoffensive of war memorabila. It is an easily identifiable object that stands for one aspect of World War 2 - and of course, as a nation we are still obsessed with World War 2.

2. The Enigma machine is simple and is in itself a thing of beauty. And yet it represents bamboozling perplexity. Such a small, easily contained item - not much bigger than a typewriter, in a pleasing wooden case. And yet it has serious scrambling power.

3. The British encryption machine, TypeX, was actually more effective and powerful. It was based on the Enigma-rotor system, and was not broken by the Germans. They did not however, have a code-breaking initiative on the scale of Bletchley Park. But it is not such a beautiful design and it doesn't come with the same stories that the Enigma brings. It's altogether less exciting to the man in the street.

4. The cracking of the Enigma machine represents a popular, memorable, British success in World War Two. It's something to be proud of as a nation. I say 'popular' because it is popularly believed that the British cracked the Enigma when it was the Poles who got there first, invented the Bombe and handed their research to the British - saving them months of headscratching work. The Poles were, in my opinion, rather shamefully sidenlined thereafter, but there's not doubt that Turing, Newman et al built on the work and did amazing things with numbers and letters. One unequivocally British success of cracking the Lorenz cipher, Hitler's own personal code that was far more heavily encrypted than anything else previously encountered. And this led to the building of Colussus, which, despite the name, isn't as strong a 'brand' as the German Enigma machine.

Anyway, those are some brief thoughts on the matter. Read about the Spanish Civil War story here.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Some Useful Links

Here are one or two links if you are interested in the business of writing, or thinking about sit-com.

Ken Levine, writer of many American sitcom hits, has a blog here.

I also recommend Rob Long's weekly podcast called Martini Shot, broadcast by KCRW. It's only 4-5 minutes long, but is an interesting window into the comedy writing world. You can find that here. He is also the author of this wonderful semi-autobiographical book published a few years ago called Conversations with My Agent. He has followed it up more recently with Set Up Joke, Set up Joke.

Rob Long writes very well about the Biz, as it were. And there are literally dozens of TV shows about sitcoms from the past. But there isn't much out there on the technical subject of comedy writing itself. One book I read when I was starting out was Writing Comedy by Ronald Wolfe, writer of the now unwatchable On the Buses. But the structural stuff and the way in which comedy works is all useful, even if you end up writing jokes that don't revolve around 'crumpet'.

If I stumble across other resources, I'll put them up here. In case you're interested. You may not be. You may just like Hut 33. In which case, let me reassure you that I'm doing my best to write Series 3 at the moment - and it should be out in the second half of 2009.