The problem with a film script is that we cannot know characters’ thoughts. Everything is walk and talk, action and dialogue. But thoughts and reflections are central to novels. Note that I have also changed the name Henry Norwich to Lord Coe (a real person). Worried that I may have to clear it with Lord Coe himself – I certainly didn’t want to be sued or have a court order blocking publication – I sent him a copy. Some weeks later he very courteously replied that he had no objection to there being ‘a Lord Coe character’ in the book.
INT. COMMITTEE MEETING – DAY
In a gleaming wood-panelled room, HENRY NORWICH head of the British Olympic committee is addressing his executive team.
(speaking forcefully) There is a danger that events could get out of hand. We have to seize the initiative. We have to take charge of the idea. We have to capture the moral high ground. The question is: How? How are we to do this?
MARY SMITH indicates with a hesitant gesture that she has an idea. He nods to her.
I think I might have… (she pauses)
An idea. Possibly.
(beginning to get impatient) Yes?
(mishearing) What’s that? Lavatory? Yes, of course, you can go. No need to…
(flustered, shouts) Poetry!
(more insistent) Yes. A poet. We need a poet.
Yes. Poet. A Poet laureate of sports. A poet who will write inspiring poems. Poems about victory. Poems about the challenge. Poems about pain. Poems about glory. Poems about…
MARY SMITH gets very excited about the idea – she ends up standing on the table with her arms raised)
(Brightening to the idea) A poet?
(sitting down again) Yes, a poet
Of course. A Poet. Poetry. Exactly. Quite. What a wonderful idea. Perfect.
Some (including IVOR JENKINS) nod approvingly or with grudging acceptance. Others at the meeting protest or show they are puzzled by the discussion.
(with strong Welsh accent) Oh I know a poet. Just the man for the job. If it’s a poet you’re looking for then Rowan Jones is your man.
Have I heard of him?
Oh. You will. You will. Rowan Jones is going places. Mark my words.
Well, if there are no other suggestions. Perhaps this… what did you say his name was?
Rowan the poet. Rowan Jones
Well, I suppose we’d better invite him up to London then.
I’ll get on to his missus right away.
(deeply confused)His missus?
Oh yes. She’s my sister, see.
Lord Coe was the last to enter the wood-panelled boardroom. He walked slowly to his place at the head of the long oak table. Setting down the folders in his hand, he coolly observed for a moment this team that had been responsible for putting the games together. It was down to the wire now. Just weeks to go before the venues had to be spot-on perfect. There were so many details. Far more details than any one person could keep in his head. He had to rely on this, his team. In turn, each of them had teams that they had to rely on. And the members of these teams too had other teams. On and on, down it went. Teams relying on teams that relied on teams.
There were thousands upon thousands involved; men and women who had spent months if not years of sleepless nights worrying what would go wrong, how to rectify this slippage here or plaster over that crack there. It wasn’t a matter of just building the venues then muddling along hoping everything worked. Every little detail had to be analyzed, planned, sorted out, put in place. There were the events to organize, the national teams to accommodate, the medals to design, the tickets to print and distribute and all the rest of it. Mountains of detail. Above all there was the Opening Ceremony to arrange. And each of these details had to be budgeted for. The money had to be raised. The money that had been raised needed to be carefully handled—invested when not needed; disbursed with a clearly demarcated paper trail when required. And he, Lord Coe, was responsible for making sure this entire edifice of planning and effort worked. And now they were almost there. Eight hard years. He looked from face to face to see who was looking relaxed and who was still looking stressed. Eight damned hard years. But as he knew from his years as an athlete, all the hard work was aimed at one short moment, one perfect explosion of effort— and the result was either glory or mud in the face. And you didn’t know till that last moment which it would be. And now there was this Tibetan demonstration. It might just be a flea bite or … he hardly dared say it, even to himself, it could turn this moment of dreams into a nightmare. It wasn’t in his nature to let things slide. He wanted things taken in hand. Every single minutia.
Finally, he sat down. The firm set of his jaw alerted everyone that there was not going to be champagne. Not just yet. That would come later. Lord Coe let his gaze circle the table slowly so that each one of them would be left in no doubt as to the seriousness with which he viewed the matter.
‘Today demonstrations by Tibetans. Tomorrow …?’ He left the thought dangling in the silence of the room. What outrage might there be? From the very beginning, careful thought had been given to the security issues. He spoke forcefully: ‘There is a danger that events could get out of hand. We have to seize the initiative. We have to take charge of the idea. We have to capture the moral high ground. The question is: How? How are we to do this?’ He needed answers. One by one, eyes turned away from his steely glare: to the table, the far wall, the ceiling. Coming up with instant ideas was not what they were good at. They were used to delegating. Everything was delegated. Now he wanted them—them? —to come up with an idea. Was he mad?
Only one pair of eyes did not seek to escape. Mary Smith, Head of Strategy, had not got where she was without one or two ideas of her own. In fact, she had a file of ideas for every possible emergency. She had already worked out six years earlier that there would be a requirement for an idea— she didn’t know when, where, by who, in what circumstance, in what context—but she knew that it was one hundred percent certain that the request would come. So, she had drafted a short list of five ideas for every contingency she could think of. Well, truth was, she had got her smart team to come up with the ideas. They were all contained in a file and she never went anywhere without that file. Now, she opened it and deftly fingered the sections until she came to the one she wanted. A quick glance at the list and she took hold of the one that resonated most clearly. So, it was that she herself was almost as surprised as everyone else when she heard what she had to say.
Lord Coe raised an eyebrow quizzically.
‘That is to say, a poet.’ She was on her own now but this was an old party game in her household. You had to take an idea and run with it. You had to try to persuade everyone else that it was not only a good idea but the best possible idea in this the best possible of worlds. And doing this in the present boardroom was child’s play compared to the Smith drawing room where by now everyone else playing the game could be counted on to be fairly blotto with wine and/or a spliff (but this was before her appointment to the Olympic Managing Committee. From that moment on spliffs –and everything else that was remotely illegal– were banned from the Smith household.)
Lord Coe’s mouth twisted but it was hard to say how this related to his thoughts. Well, it was make or break.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘A poet. A poet laureate of sports. A poet who will write inspiring poems. Poems about victory. Poems about the challenge. Poems about pain. Poems about glory.
Poems about …’
‘A poet?’ Lord Coe’s voice showed clearly he was warming to the idea.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘A poet.’
‘Of course!’ Lord Coe was positively beaming. ‘A poet. Poetry. Exactly. Quite. What a wonderful idea. Perfect.’
Now that an idea had somehow emerged and been accepted by the Chair, as they all referred to him, the other eyes regrouped and reconverged. Heads started to nod. Safer to nod than to shake. A shaken head had better come up with a damn good alternative idea. No-one wanted to engage in verbal fisticuffs with Mary Smith who had a reputation when it came to vicious in-fighting.
Lord Coe looked around the table with the smile of relief on his face. Poetry? Why hadn’t he thought of that? Thank God for Mary Smith. But then he sensed that the idea had not quite reached its destination.
‘But who?’ he asked.
Before Mary could announce that she would draw up a shortlist of five leading poets and interview them personally, a soft Welsh voice broke into the proceedings.
‘Oh, I know a poet. Just the man for the job. If it’s a poet you’re looking for then Rowan Jones is your man.’
Ivor Jenkins was not often loquacious but when he had something to say it was always to the point. He had earned respect and so it was that no-one thought to offer any other suggestions.
‘Have I heard of him?’ Lord Coe queried.
‘Oh. You will. You will.’ Ivor spoke with complete confidence. ‘Rowan Jones is going places. Mark my words.’
‘Well, if there are no other suggestions? Perhaps this … what did you say his name was?’
‘Rowan the poet. Rowan Jones.’
‘Well, I suppose we’d better invite him up to London then.’ Lord Coe said and passed on to other matters.