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Documentary: ‘Back in Black’

BBC2 documentary ‘Terry Pratchett: Back in Black’ featured Paul Kay in the role of Pratchett and contributions from Neil Gaiman and Val McDermid. The documentary was moving and insightful, funny and fierce – everything we have come to expect from the world of Terry Pratchett. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. Here are some of our favourite moments…

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1. Paul Kaye as Pratchett

Our first sighting of Paul Kaye as Terry Pratchett follows a scene that is difficult to watch, as in footage from 2014 we see the real Terry, a man of words, struggle to form a coherent sentence. Kaye’s performance takes us back to Terry at his fiercely witty best. Done badly, this ‘docudrama’ format could have been excruciating… but Kaye is a revelation.  And as he reminds us, in Terry’s own words: ‘No one is truly dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away.’

2. Recognition at last

We’re sure we weren’t the only ones shouting at the TV as they heard the literary establishment describing Discworld as ‘nerdy real-ale stuff’ not suitable for girls, and comparing Pratchett fans to ‘insects scurrying around under a rock’. The later TV footage, when we finally hear the critics appreciate Pratchett, describing his language as richer than Tolkien’s, had us punching the air. Who’s laughing now?

3. Character inspiration

‘Everybody you’ve ever known has gone into the dark mill of your mind,’ Terry tells us. We loved hearing about the inspiration for Discworld characters, from the Luggage and the Librarian to Esk and Sergeant Jackrum. We particularly enjoyed Bernard Pearson’s wicked laugh after reading the (not entirely flattering) description of the character that Terry said was based partly on him:

‘The word “fat” could not honestly be applied to him, not when the word “gross” was lumbering forward to catch your attention.’

4. Rhianna’s memories of her dad

Through Rhianna’s memories of her father, we see beyond the larger-than-life figure of Terry Pratchett the author, to the dad who, on snowy days, would pick up his daughter from school with a sledge in tow.

‘Dad embraced the narrative of the moment rather more than the practicality.’

5. Terry’s love of reading

Ok, we’re biased, but who doesn’t love the feeling of sitting down with a new book? Hearing how the young Terry discovered the joy of reading, from London Labour and the London Poor to Tove Jansson’s Finn Family Moomintroll, reminds us that books contain all the entertainment we could ever need.  

6. Val McDermid on Sam Vimes

Not only does McDermid highlight the quality of Terry’s crime writing, she articulates exactly why we love Sam Vimes, ‘the boy from nowhere who goes on to rule the world… a good man trying to do the right thing.’ Remind you of anyone? 

‘Just like Sam Vimes, I started out with very little. And ended up being knight of the realm… not bad for a boy who was told he’d never amount to anything eh?’ 

7. Pratchett confronts his old headmaster 

One of our favourite moments didn’t actually make it into the documentary, but is available on the BBC website as a deleted scene. We see Terry, dressed in school uniform, come face to face with his old nemesis. ‘You don’t get a sword when you’re knighted’ the headmaster tells him, condescendingly. ‘I know, shocking isn’t it’, Terry replies, drawing his blade, ‘I had to make my own’.

8. Terry on Alzheimer’s

Terry puts his disease in terms we can comprehend, and it is poignant and visceral:

‘On the first day of my journalistic career I saw my first corpse – some unfortunate chap had fallen down a hole on a farm and had drowned in pig shit… All I can say is that, compared with that horrific demise, Alzheimer’s is a walk in the park. Except with Alzheimer’s my park keeps changing. The trees get up and walk over there, the benches go missing and the paths seem to be unwinding into particularly vindictive serpents.’

9. Neil Gaiman breaks your heart

If Neil Gaiman’s grief-stricken final words in the documentary didn’t make your heart hurt, we don’t know what will.

‘It was toward the end, and I thought…I want to talk to my friend. And we said everything we had to say. And he was there. And then Rob turned up with scampi and we sat and ate scampi. I miss him so much.’

10. Goodbyes

As Paul Kaye bids us farewell on behalf of Terry, he entrusts us, and the world, with the stern instruction not to ‘bugger it up’. A message that couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.