Tim Reid | Interview | Podcast | Maria Franzoni | MFL Global

Interview with Award Winning Comedy Writer and Innovation Expert, Tim Reid

This week Maria’s guest on the show is Tim Reid. Tim spent over 20 years working with some of the world’s most creative organisations including global ad agencies and innovation consultancies. Before having his first sitcom, Car Share, starring superstar comedian, Peter Kay, commissioned by the BBC. As an innovation expert, Tim has helped many clients from beer brands to broadcasters, confectioners to condom makers, reimagine the future and reinvent their businesses. As a coach, Tim has enabled hundreds of teams across the world to reignite their own creative potential to have bigger, better ideas. From his unique position as both the successful innovation consultant and comedy writer, Tim has drawn together a practical guide to applying the trade secrets used by top creative professionals, comedians and writers.

Tim Reid tells us where the idea for the BAFTA award-winning TV sitcom Car Share came from. How his career path changed when he realised that he wasn’t destined to be a rock star. Why it’s important to make the time and space for creativity, and what your “weekend brain” is!  All this and much more…

Maria:

This week’s guest is Tim Reid. Tim spent over 20 years working with some of the world’s most creative organizations including global ad agencies and innovation consultancies. Before having his first sitcom, Car Share, starring superstar comedian, Peter Kay, commissioned by the BBC. As an innovation expert, Tim has helped many clients from beer brands to broadcasters, confectioners to condom makers, reimagine the future and reinvent their businesses. As a coach, Tim has enabled hundreds of teams across the world to reignite their own creative potential to have bigger, better ideas. From his unique position as both the successful innovation consultant and comedy writer, Tim has drawn together a practical guide to applying the trade secrets used by top creative professionals, comedians and writers, and we’re going to delve into that a bit later. But first of all, welcome Tim.

Tim Reid:

Thank you Maria. Thank you for having me.

Maria:

That’s an absolute pleasure. Absolutely. So what a very varied and interesting career. Did you wake up one morning as a child at six or nine years of age and say, “I’m going to go into advertising.”

Tim Reid:

No. No, I had no idea what I wanted to do other than I was going to be a rock star, right up until I failed all my A-levels. Because I was going to be a rock star, so you don’t need A-levels to tour America.

The time when it dawned on me that I needed to do something was when I think, our singer … We were about to go on tour and our singers said, “Do you know what, I’m off to busk around Greece.”

So, I realised, at that point that the band probably wasn’t the safest place to put all my bets in really. And that same week, I think I’d only got A-level result back that was just about good enough to get me away to a Uni so I went off and did business studies, which I found really dull but the most exciting bit of it I thought, was marketing, I found marketing really interesting.

So, I did a post-grad there. I got my act together. Did a masters in marketing and the most interesting part of that I thought was advertising because it felt like the most creative bit.

So, I think from that moment I was kind of, seduced into the thought of being creative commercially, not just with my guitar and that great ideas could be brought to life for practical benefits.

So, I got into advertising that way. And then always chased towards the ideas of my advertising career. I started in media, to buying and placing the ads where they should go. Then I became an account director, sort of running the clients projects. Then I became a planner.

So, all the time getting closer to the idea. But really I wanted to be a writer. So, I wrote a few ads as a planner. So as well as developing the strategies I came up with the ideas. You’re not supposed to if you’re not in the creative department. But I did, and I threw them in and I had a creative director then that went, “What are you doing out there, you’re a creative really.” But he loved some of the ideas I came up with. In fact, some of them went on to win some big awards.

So, he decided that this didn’t make sense unless I was a creative. So I joined the creative development. I think from then I’ve had this bee in my bonnet really, there shouldn’t be a creative department anyway. We’re all creative. And so I got under the skin of how we come up with ideas; where ideas come from.

I got really into the writing as well and I think that’s where I decided I really wanted to be a writer and a comedy writer. But never lost this passion for helping everybody become more creative and be part of this big, wide, creative department that should be the world really, and not just … Well it’s getting all, it’s getting all philosophical and deep now.

Maria:

I know, blimey, and that’s just after one question. Can you imagine where we’re going to end up?

Tim Reid:

I know.

Maria:

Yeah. Now listen, I’ve got to back track here. ‘Cause you’ve told me something I didn’t know about you. I didn’t know that you wanted to be a rock star so what’s your musical instrument then?

Tim Reid:

Well so I played guitar, I played bass in bands. I just got a mandolin actually, so I’m just to learn something new. But yeah, I used to play bass in Indy rock bands. There were two bands within our friend group. One went on to be Ocean Colour Scene.

Maria:

Wow.

Tim Reid:

In the 90’s and the others still play. I don’t really, I’ve been in and out of bands over the last 20 years but I think when I left to go to Uni and left that behind, I stopped having it as a big serious thing but I still love playing.

Maria:

Fantastic. We might have to get you to play the mandolin one day for us.

Tim Reid:

Ah, yeah. I will. I will.

Maria:

Okay. And then the other thing you talked about is that some of your ads won awards. Will we have seen any of those? Are they iconic ads that we might remember?

Tim Reid:

You probably won’t remember, no. But the first big ad I wrote that won awards … In fact, it was the ads that the creative director said, “What you doing, you’re a creative really.” Was for Durex, for a condom called The Performer Condom. Which is a climax delay condom that helps the man last longer. And I just, in writing the brief for the ads, I was the planner on it, I was coming up with ideas for different posters we could have and the one that I think I wrote that he went, “Oh, that’s genius,” was I just took the word ejaculate and put an R on the end of it. It was Ejaculator. As in, sort of help you last longer. And it just become one word. It was a big poster. Spelled out of condoms making letters. Part of a campaign was Ejaculator, Roger More. A few like that, that just became one word as big posters.

But, as well as that, I came up with a line for a big cancer campaign. Manchester against Cancer, I think it was, where I came with a strap line which is, don’t be a Cancer Chancer and it was about going and seeing your GP sooner and getting early detection. That was quite big but mainly up here.

A lot of Durex ads. So I was writing knob gags for a living before I was a comedy writer.

Maria:

Yeah. I’ll have to put a warning on this podcast. Anybody who is easily offended. Brilliant. Fantastic. Actually that Cancer Chancer is a really good one. I like that, very catchy as well. Brilliant.

So, you always wanted to write comedy and then of course you had your big break with your BAFTA award-winning … In fact, it’s won best original program, most popular comedy series, best TV entertainment program. I mean, absolutely huge, really award-winning. Where did you come up with the idea of Car Share? It’s really, it’s simple but it’s genius.

Tim Reid:

Yeah. Actually it’s the simplicity that led us to the idea. So, a colleague and I, when we were working for What If, the Big Innovation Ad Consultancy.

We were both really into comedy and we knew we wanted to come up with a sitcom idea. It was about 2010. So it was not long after the big credit crunch. So we thought, let’s try and come up with something that’s really simple but cheap to make. That was what led us to the idea. We thought, what could be really cheap to make and therefore be more likely to get commissioned from producers and broadcasters that have got tight purse strings. And we just watched … There was a thing out at that time called Roger And Val Have Just Got In. With Dawn French and Alfred Molina and it was basically a couple in their 40’s. But it was the first half an hour since they got in from work. They had  different jobs, they got in from work, that first half hour and it was just their conversations but it was brilliant and beautifully crafted, and through their conversations you got to feel like you knew everything about their lives, their work, their colleagues, their stresses, their hopes and fears.

So, the constriction of that, but also there was something else around at that time called The Smoking Room, you remember that. It was just, it was all set in the smoking room in an office block, which dates it actually, we don’t have those anymore do we?

Everything was in that room. So the smokers would come in, sit down, chat, moan, go out again. And we thought, let’s try and come up with something like that where it’s all confined in one space. And we came up with the thought of two colleagues stuck together in a car share scheme. And I’d not long read Men Are From Mars and Women Are From Venus and I thought, if you could personify the difference between men and women in two colleagues that are forced together, the conflict that you would get from that is just rife for comedy.

One factor, I remember, it said men have about 8000 words they need to get out in a day to make them happy. And more than that and they’re unhappy. 8000 words is the ideal for a man. Whereas, for women it’s 20,000 words.

So, he was kind of in the book saying, so you’re inevitably going to have in the evenings then a couple where he’s said his 8000 words, he’s got not words left. He doesn’t want to talk anymore but she’s probably still got 5000 words she still needs to get out to reach peak happiness. And whether that’s right or wrong, it felt like there was a truth in that.

So, you put two people together where one wants to chat all the time, the other just wants to listen to Five Live, don’t talk to me, I’m on my way in to work.

So, that was the kind of the crux of it. And then once we’d developed those characters, John and Kayleigh, we wrote those first six episodes in three months. It just kind of wrote itself. What would they do on their way in to work, what would they say on the way home? And that’s where that came from.

Maria:

Love that. I imagine then at that time if it came … All that time ago, you didn’t have Peter Kay in mind as the star or a character.

Tim Reid:

No, absolutely not. In fact, in fact we’d written the characters at about age 30 at the time. So when Paul, my co-writer on it, he’d gone to school with Peter, with Peter Kay. So they were still good friends. So we thought, well let’s show it to Peter and if he’d be bothered to read it. If he liked it, he could introduce us to somebody. And if he didn’t like it, he could tell us where we’ve gone wrong. That was all we were thinking at the time.

But no, he read it and he loved it. And said, “It’s great. Let me have a think about it.” And I think a couple of days after he’d read it he got in touch with Paul and said, “Have you thought about casting yet because I think I could do a job with John?”

My first thought was, “I think he’s a bit too old.” I think before I’d even said that. Before it had even come out of my mouth, just thought, “Of course, he’d be amazing.” And he was. He was brilliant in it.

Maria:

Fantastic. So do you base your, when you write your comedy, do you base it on things that have happened in your life or maybe your family, your kids, your wife?

Tim Reid:

Yes. Very much. I think my style I think is very much the naturalistic side of comedy rather than big sitcomy, silly slapsticky type. And I think that’s often funnier and probably much more of a modern take on comedy I think. It’s the naturalism, realism. I think we laugh at the truth. So things that are really said or the type of characters people really are, the situations we really get ourselves in.

I think there’s much more fertile comedy ground in that than making up something more fantastical. So yeah, very much so, you kind of look for stimulus and inspiration around the world. Which is very much what I train people in as well in any form of creativity. Get deep into the real world. Whether that’s your consumer or your product or your competitors.

The more we immerse ourselves I think in the reality around us, the more stimulus we get for creative thinking.

Maria:

Brilliant. And you’ve not got into trouble with the family have you with any of the situations?

Tim Reid:

No, no. Funnily enough, not trouble. The only funny thing that happens out of it is that everybody assumes that a character or a line is from them. I had that a lot after Car Share first went out.

People from the butcher to friends, to people in the pub going, “Was that me?” Or, “Have I said that?” Or, “Where did you get that from?” Or, “Here’s one for you.” That’s the thing.

Because, it’s clearly based around the real life. People either think that something might have been based on something they said and I won’t tell them if it was. Occasionally it was, other people whether it’s colleagues or friends who have done or said things that you use.

But you change it into the context of the story or a fictional character but … So no, never in trouble. Never in trouble. Just merely suspected of borrowing stuff.

Maria:

So do you carry a little notebook around where you write these ideas down then?

Tim Reid:

Yeah, it’s actually my phone. But that’s my notebook. You know, the notes in the phone, it’s full of things that I’ve heard or said. For sure, yeah loads and you know, I do often go back to it. So yeah, if I hear something, especially on the train, you hear the way the people interact and talk to each other. There’s nothing funnier than kind of shining a mirror on that and people do recognize it, so yeah. I’m always writing stuff down.

Maria:

Brilliant. And I know you’re working on a new comedy at the moment. Are you able to tell us anything or is it all top secret?

Tim Reid:

No, I think, there’s a few I’m working on.  So I’ve got a few that are out-and-about. Probably nothing much I can say because they’re at that stage where the producer or broadcaster even. Yeah, things are getting close and starting to get made and then it’s best to hang on to stuff until it’s about to go out. But, what could I say? So, things that are based around family, things that are based around social lives, working with one or two quite big name comedians at the moment that yeah, I couldn’t mention yet but some quite exciting stuff.

News as I get it.

Maria:

Okay well, we’ll share it as it happens. That’s great

Tim Reid:

Yeah.

Maria:

So listen, we sort of alluded to the fact that you’ve got some trade secrets that you’ve picked up in your career that you now share with corporates to help them be more creative. Can you give us a couple of these little snippets maybe?

Tim Reid:

Sure. Yeah of course.

I mean there’s lots of tools and techniques that I’ve seen throughout my working career. Especially when I was working at What If. Ways of running creative sessions and making sure people are as creative as possible and having as bigger, better ideas as they can.

But then yeah, when working with comedians and comedy writers, I’ve noticed that a few of those techniques that they do even better.

One is lovely. I was talking to a comedian a few months ago and she was saying about one thing she uses, she called it the washing machine of influence, when she’s writing something.

But basically, what she means … I’ve heard it described as the hall of fame as well, but it’s a great technique.  Where, if you’re wondering, you’re playing with an idea and you’re thinking it’s not quite working, you imagine how someone else would do it. So, her washing machine of influence, she was just thinking all the funniest or best writers or best stand-ups that she knows, she kind of pictured them washing …  Swirling around in a washing machine and then one would come out, whether it’s Billy Connolly or Victoria Wood. And she’d kind of imagine what they would do with that idea that she’d had and by doing that you’ve basically just using different bits of your brain to tackle a problem and in that case it was a bit of stand-up material.

You can do exactly the same thing with any idea session that you’re having and you brainstorm. Imagine … I use a technique called what would Batman do?

It’s the same kind of thing. You’re thinking, well I’ve got this challenge, here’s an idea. But imagine if Batman came in and said, “Right I’ve solved it. Here’s how to do it.”

So, that’s a great comedian’s technique. Another that they use, which is fascinating I think, is a thing called, talking. It’s a stand-ups technique, most stand-ups will know about this.

If they lose their thread on stage, you never see a good stand-up go, “Oh, hang on a minute. Where was I going?” Or even looking at a note. What they do is, they talk, they just find a thing to talk about, whether it’s somebody in the audience or something that’s just occurred to them. They’ll talk until their subconscious has caught up and they’ve gone, “Oh yeah, that’s where I was.” And they’re back on track.

And now I use a technique in creative sessions having ideas where I get people to just talk, because it is like putting a tap into your subconscious. So if you’ve got a challenge, if you force yourself to talk about it for three or four minutes, you get beyond the stuff that’s here, the obvious stuff, the stuff that you’re familiar with and you start to tap. The more you talk … It becomes drivel for a little while. Just, it’s nonsense. But if someone’s making notes of the things you’re saying sooner or later you get into your sub-conscious and something will come out where your sub-conscious has been going, “Look, I know the answer to this.” And it’s about your brain catching up with yourself.

So, talking is a nice technique. Pushing it another one. Comedians never stop at a half decent gag. They’ll push to see how far can I take this? They’ll know when they’ve hit the line. They cross the line and step back from it a little bit.

But we tend to, in businesses, go, well that’s a good idea and pat ourselves on the back too quickly. So turning it up to 11 and how far could we push this before it’s gone too far, is another technique that I’ve learnt in comedy writing rooms.

Maria:

Fantastic. That’s all brilliant. Something you said earlier about your career in advertising and that the creatives were in a department and they were separate from everybody else, do you think that’s a mistake that corporates and businesses make where they have an innovation department or a creative department as you say, totally separate? Is that the big mistake companies are making or do you see other mistakes as well?

Tim Reid:

I think that’s symptomatic of a mistake that is not creating time and space for everybody to be creative. Whether that’s putting a team in a room and saying you’re the creative people. I do think that’s a mistake. They’re then not embedding it throughout the company or whether it’s having a team assigned to do innovation. That can be the right thing to do depending on the challenge to take some people out. But I wouldn’t make it all one kind of person. Make it more of a cross functional team if you’re going to do it.

But the big mistake that I think is part of the same way of thinking is not to create time and space for expansive thinking.  Because it’s a different way of thinking. It’s a more playful, more audacious, braver way of thinking where failure is celebrated but sought for actually.

We’ve got … Let’s look to see all of the different possibilities that we can explore. Different ideas. Let’s get creative and playful.

And then having the other frame of mind, which is then getting reductive and working out, “Okay, we’ve explored lots of different possibilities, let’s look for the right one and then focus on it.” You get into a totally different set of behaviours and processes then when you’re getting action orientated.

So, I think that’s more the thing, is recognizing that expansive thinking or reductive thinking is not a type of person. It’s a way of … It’s an attitude and it’s a way of working and you need to separate those two out but that’s different from taking a group of people and calling them creative. And hiving them off.

So, I think there is a big, big difference in that.

Maria:

There is a challenge of course in business that we’re all so busy, there’s so much going on, everything’s moving so fast and to be creative, as you say, you have to make time and space. Well, I suppose when companies do make time and space they actually become more productive. More efficient. They do better don’t they?

Tim Reid:

Yes of course.

Maria:

How do you start doing that? How do you start applying that time?

Tim Reid:

I think it’s about recognising that there’s a need at times to think differently and do different things, you know. I think, you have to recognise, unless we’re one of those organisations that think, “Our world isn’t changing. We can do things the way we’ve always done them.”

I think that’s a very rare organisation. So if you recognise that, you then need to have the skills to do it. So you need to make sure your teams have the capability. The understanding of how to be creative, so there’s that. And then, it’s a cultural thing. It’s recognising the team from top down within the culture that creativity is a necessity and here’s how we’re going to do it.

So, skilling up the people, having the culture that recognises it but yes, making the time and space. I think that’s so important and I’ve seen in big organisations, they begrudge giving expensive resource of leaders, to their time an hour to get together, to brainstorm. And it’s an hour where people aren’t ready and skilled to do it so it becomes a frustrating waste of people’s time and it’s So, I think the thing is, do it properly and see the benefit of coming up with some big ideas. Then it’s natural then within an organisation to see the value in making time and space and skilling people up to be able to do it.

It’s not something that has to take over, every organisation has to have their way of working, have their processes. Have their business as usual. But it’s critical to have the time and space and place and skills and cultural appreciation of making room for it. Finding the time.

Maria:

And it’s interesting you mention that an hour’s not long enough. You can’t put a load of people unprepared. And actually when we work together, we tend to work more on workshops and master classes with teams and you like to have a lot longer than an hour.

So, if the client was thinking about actually, you know, “We need to have some creativity. We need to have some help.” And they brought you in, what would the best setup be? What’s the best scenario for you in terms of duration, numbers of people, what sort of preparation do they need to do? How do they get the best from you?

Tim Reid:

So I think it can be multi-pronged. It can be an hour talk to spark it off. To kind of set the context and go, to a wide audience of people, here’s how and why it’s important and the kind of skills that you could be embracing and embedding. Then I think the optimum for coaching a team of creative champions within an organization is to have a full day really. I think the idea is, to have a full day with 12 to 16 people who can then become catalysts, champions of creativity within the organization and in a day, you can then take those people on a journey of kind of, they’re tapping into their own creativity but learning the tools and the skills and the processes to be able to lead creative sessions.

I think that’s probably the way to have the most impact. The quickest is you get a dozen or so people really skilled up and fired up on how to do it and confident in rolling it out.

Maria:

Fantastic.

Tim Reid:

You can do that in half a day but I think a day-

Maria:

This is the ideal and I know we’ve done all the work with much bigger groups because it’s not always possible, financially, to do a smaller group for an organization but actually, that is just great to know the ideal and that sounds terrific.

So finally, you talk about weekend brain. Why don’t you finish on, explaining to us, what’s a weekend brain?

Tim Reid:

So your weekend brain is really the real you, I think. I think we are, in terms of creativity, we tend to be much more creative and much more able and much more relaxed about coming up with new ideas at home. Where we’re relaxed, where we’re around people that we know and love and that we feel brave enough to experiment. Whether that’s in what I’m cooking, where I’m going, what I’m going to wear, what I’m going to do in the garden, redesigning the house.

We all tend to think that we’re creative people at home, confident enough to design a house, where are we moving things to? Where do we move to? All sorts of different ideas we have. But then most people then get to work and get into business as usual, this is the way I, this is where I sit, I don’t talk to those people. We get into habits or rituals and routines that keep us on track with the way things have always been done.

So, what I mean by weekend brain is, when we’re getting together to be more playful and more creative and explore different ideas, we have to remind ourselves to bring the weekend you, the bit of you that’s much more relaxed and confident about ideas and coming up with ideas, into the room and if everybody does that for however long you’ve gathered together. Loosen the tie, take it off, sit down, relax and be prepared to break some rules and think creative and have some fun. And have a laugh, actually.

You get into a much more creative bit of your brain when you’re relaxed and having fun and being playful and having a laugh.

That’s what I mean by weekend brain.

Maria:

Brilliant, and on that note I hope everybody uses their weekend brain every day of the week.  Tim, thank you so much.

Tim Reid:

Pleasure, thanks Maria.

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