Interviewed by journalist Grace Dent as The Alternative MacTaggart at the Edinburgh International Television Festival prolific broadcaster, satirist journalist and screen writer Charlie Brooker discussed his experiences as a writer, producer and showrunner. Speaking of his career to date, Brooker stated: “I’ve taken a very random career path.”
In the mid-1990s Brooker wrote for PC Zone magazine and recalls thinking, when he was first approached to write a review, “I didn’t have the right to write a fucking review, and then they printed it and it led to other things.” One of those things was television work something which Brooker always imagined himself doing “I enjoyed it [TV] so thought I’d maybe end up doing that.”
Brooker’s early television work included being a writer on the Channel 4 show The Eleven O’Clock Show, and a co-host (with Gia Milinovich) on BBC Knowledge’s The Kit. Discussing his first writers meeting Brooker explained “I remember thinking everyone in TV is a lot smarter than I am.”
Explaining how he would often get frustrated at writers meetings stating: “I think viewers are not aware of the layers of compromise and change that go into TV.”
Questioned by Dent if he cared about viewers, Brooker replied, “Yes and no, if you don’t care at all it becomes self-indulgent and long winded. But, when I was a kid and watched Monty Python and Not the Nine O’Clock News, I didn’t get it, but the important part was I wanted to.”
Adding: “I remember wanting to use the word ‘Zoetrope’ and being told ‘No - no one will know what that means’ but it doesn’t matter. It’s not like viewers will get up in a fit of rage and throw shoes at the screen. I wasn't trying to get some ornate original tapestry on the screen.”
Of his early presenting work Brooker described his efforts as being more like a “bad Johnny Vaughan impersonation” than anything else, but in early 2006 Brooker began writing and presenting his signature television series Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe on BBC Four.
“The BBC had wanted it to be kind of Top Gear-y, like a telly party where people would come round and watch TV and we'd discuss it, which seemed a bit weird,” Brooker explained, “then for a while it seemed like no one was in charge of it” and as if by accident “someone suggested I read my column and we'd edit it together,” the rest, as they say is history.
When Dent suggested that Brooker is just like his on screen Screenwipe persona, Brooker argued that “the persona is exaggerated; it's more deadpan and more misanthropic. No one can be that misanthropic.”
The discussion soon moved on to Black Mirror, one of Brooker's more recent, and perhaps more controversial works. The three-part drama series aired on Channel 4 in December 2011 to largely positive reviews, described by Brooker as being set in the “area between delight and discomfort.” The titular “Black Mirror” is the cold shiny screen of a TV, a monitor or a smartphone, explaining to Dent, “I just thought it was a funny idea to do this spoof thriller.”
Brooker continued: “It ended up illustrating this humiliation culture that we have, if you told someone the Prime Minister had to have sex with a pig their first reaction would probably be 'LOL.' The reality is not so much. So in the end you have the Prime Minister as this sympathetic character. When he's being dragged to the room where the pig is, ultimately its like he's being taken to be shot.”
During the interview Brooker described himself as a “Jack of all trades” saying he gets bored easily which stops him from doing just one thing. When asked by Dent if he had any regrets over the material he has written, Brooker replied, “No, I would write these things again. My motive is to entertain, it's not like I change anyone's mind.”