On the Internet

By Richard Curtis

Introduction

Over a period of about a week, the Guardian newspaper in the UK ran an interesting series of articles intended to explain the Internet (really WWW) to the general public. They invited a number of well-known people who were quite new to the net ('net virgins") in for a 3 hour trial session, and commissioned each to write about their experiences. The results were pretty variable - the best IMHO (certainly the funniest) was by Richard Curtis, author of Blackadder (a very successful TV comedy series here), and of Four Weddings and a Funeral.

RICHARD CURTIS, creator of Blackadder, discovers a great way to waste time.

I WRITE about things I know a bit about. This explains the pathetically unimaginative scope of my screenplays. The first was about someone who acted as the straight man for an actor called Ron Anderson and lived in Camden Town - I used to be straight man for an actor called Rowan Atkinson and lived in Camden Town.

The second was about a person who only ever sees his friends at weddings, lives with someone called Scarlett and decides not to marry the girl he loves. I've been to 72 weddings, where I always see my friends, live with a daughter called Scarlett and have decided not to marry the girl I love. We live together in Notting Hill. Which is the working title of my third film - Notting Hill. It's sad. The way things are going, I'll soon be starting a fourth film about an incredibly unimaginative writer who has to write an article for the Guardian about the Internet, about which he knows nothing.

So - I'm in trouble here. The idea was that I would come in to the Guardian and in a few hours learn about the Internet. Yes, but that's like those fabulous writers who spend a week in Zaire and then write a sprawling novel about Zairean history with not a spelling mistake. I need more time. I've had my three hours on the Internet - and still don't know a thing about it.

So - I've got a choice. I can either write about something I do know about, like changing nappies or writing Blackadders - or I can wildly guess things about the Internet and wait for a phone call from Douglas Adams telling me I'm talking total nonsense.

So - perhaps I should just ring Douglas and get him to write the article. Some hope. He's the busiest and tallest man in the UK. Back to me. Forgive me if I try just to get away with five, just five, only five, observations about the Internet that are, sadly, "unspeakably uninformed codswallop" (Douglas Adams, speaking later today).

  1. It's very, very dangerous in terms of time-wasting. The only fancy thing I ever had on my computer was a game of solitaire. I started playing it a lot - then I realised I was wasting too much time on it. So I only started playing it as a reward when I wrote something funny. But that wasn't often enough - and I started playing when I thought I'd thought of something funny. Which was suicidal - I'd think of something that might be funny - play solitaire and return to the script having forgotten what the potentially funny thing was. So - within a week, I had to throw my solitaire away in order to continue my career. I've seen other people with this sort of problem - I remember once staying with a writer who was meant to be writing a comic science-fiction screenplay for an American studio, but actually spent his entire day playing Dungeons and Dragons ("an utter fabrication" - Douglas Adam's lawyer, sometime early next week). And the Internet is solitaire times what Bill Gates earns every day. I'm quite a disciplined person - and yet I know already that if I was to get too fond of it, I would never finish a piece of work again.
  2. That said, the Internet is huge and endless and can only become more fascinating - particularly with some of the brilliant minds now turning their attention to it. ("Is that me?" "Yes, Douglas." "All, right, I'll call off the lawyers.") It's going to get faster and faster - and be fuller and fuller of information and imagination. It will be like having every library in the world at your fingertips - like having all your dark desires. It will yield kaleidoscopic gratification. If this article was on the Internet, and you'd just read the sentence about "writing Blackadders" - you could click on Blackadder and a mass of files would open before you. You could find out the cast and plot of every episode. You could click again and find an entire new space-based episode of Blackadder written by a mad American Trekkie. Then click again and discover a rather annoying list of all the anachronisms in the four series. And again to find pages and pages of alternative lyrics for Blackadder theme tunes: "Blackadder, Blackadder, though Rowan's such a stud / Blackadder, Blackadder, this song is utter crud" was my favourite. Now, if I were you I wouldn't bother with all that - I'd click on a new country singer, Iris Dement, and find out all about her two sublime albums - maybe even download some of her songs - which will improve your life immeasurably. But whatever you fancy, there'll be more.
  3. In the area of film and the Internet, which was what I was looking at during my three hours - I was guided through a compendium, which tells you everything you might want to know about any film - cast, crew, their other credits, reviews, plot summary, even cock-ups. (Someone had quite rightly noticed that in The Tall Guy, my first film, Jeff Goldblum is actually wearing his underpants in a shower scene.) Film buffs can also see their favourite stars naked - if they have ever taken their clothes off in front of a camera, it seems (a new meaning for "film buff"). You can see snippets of your favourite films, hear music, print out stills - and increasingly you'll be able to see trailers for new films. It's intriguing, the ultimate, opinionated encyclopaedia - and it's interactive - you can vote on a scale of one to ten for every movie you look up, and affect its rating.
  4. But none of that equals in any way the experience of actually going to the movies and seeing a good film - which I could have done in my three hours.
  5. In short, the Internet is the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and more. It will just get better. It will waste some people's lives - including mine - but eventually, I suspect, art will be created there - and entertainment - and sick things and fabulous things will happen as humans who can't see each others' faces affect and change other people's lives. Oh, and . . .
  6. The great thing about the Internet is that it will not abide by the rules.

Originally published online by the Guardian and posted to usenet by Brian Randell.

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Last edited Sun Oct 01 20:10:58 2006.