Peter Viney & Karen Viney The Wrong Trousers Interview

This question and answer session was conducted by OUP in August 1998 for the OUP web magazine ELT Spectrum. We have stored it here as it only stays on the OUP site for six weeks.

OUP Peter and Karen, tell us a little bit about your involvement in the ELT adaptation of The Wrong Trousers. How is it different from the original? How has it been adapted for ELT?
PeterThe original script was written by Nick Parks and Bob Baker, and Bob Baker had written ‘Mystery Tour’ several years ago, which we adapted for ELT. Rob Maidment at OUP put the project together and approached us to do the ELT version. Our specialist area has always been beginner level materials, and our first task was to establish how it could be divided into teaching units. We then had to work out which level we could write for, with the aim of making it as simple as possible. We wanted to make it accessible for students in their first year of learning English. The new script is confined to the present tenses, plus ‘was / were’ for the past. And it’s got a linear structural progression&endash; it gradually gets more difficult as it moves through the six episodes.
KarenWhen we started looking at the six episodes which we had divided the film into, it became obvious that some episodes had a great deal of language, while others, like the museum sequence, had none. It was necessary to provide another voice. Our first idea was to have Gromit ‘thinking aloud’, but this interfered with Gromit’s image. The only answer was to have a narrator.
PeterThe narrator is used in the same way as in our Dennis Cook stories. He’s involved. He addresses the characters. He’s sympathetic. And he is a vehicle for providing language input. For example, when the penguin is measuring the museum window in preparation for the robbery, the narrator is commenting: "A tape measure? He’s going up … he’s on the window ledge … he’s measuring the window! How wide? … How high? … He’s coming down! Uh, oh!’
KarenThe temptation is to over-use the narrator, and to fill all the gaps with ‘useful’ language. We hope we have resisted this. We really did not want him to talk over the top of genuinely funny and dramatic sequences. We kept the original music and sound effects, and they often say more than anyone could.
OUP How did you choose a narrator for the film?
KarenIt was obvious from the beginning that only Peter Sallis could play Wallace, as in the original. We did a pilot episode, and tried several different narrators, including a female voice, before Stephen Tompkinson was chosen. Stephen is the star of the TV series ‘Ballykissangel.’ The choice of voice was not ours to make, but once we heard Stephen we were delighted.
OUP What is your reaction to the recent media coverage in the UK?
PeterThe Mail on Sunday printed the first, generally fair article, but added the supposedly humorous headline "The Wrong Accent" with a picture of Wallace in a dinner jacket (taken from "A Close Shave") and mentioned "foreigners can’t understand Northern slang." We winced at the insinuation that our adaptation had changed Wallace into P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster. In the body of the article it went on to say that Wallace had still got the same voice and accent. Some Labour MPs read the Mail on Sunday, and Lindsay Hoyle MP from Chorley took umbrage and started the fuss which ended with 15 MPs calling for a ban on the course in parliament. Book-banners and Daily Mail readers! Twenty years ago, Labour MPs would have been ashamed to be either … None of the MPs had seen or heard the offending adaptation. The Daily Mirror was the only paper to ask them if they had. All the other British papers picked up the story. A simple phone call to either OUP or Aardman Animations would have got the MPs a copy. They didn’t bother, but that didn’t stop them from using up Parliamentary time … and public money. It was a good ‘silly season’ news item, and pushed Mr Hoyle’s name into the press, and onto the radio, which was the point of the exercise for him … it was a storm in a teacup.
Karen … and the story ended up on page 3 of ‘The Sun’ under a picture of a naked woman.
OUP Is there much authentic language used in the video?
PeterThe original script is a monologue. Dramatic scripts differ from genuine interaction, and monologues even more so. ‘The Wrong Trousers’ was being used in its original version by a lot of ELT schools at higher levels. Rather like ‘Mr Bean’ teachers took advantage of the lack of dialogue to generate classroom language. There didn’t seem to be any point in simplifying it a little bit for those situations &endash; we decided to go the whole way and write it so that it would be accessible to beginners. What people are interested in is how much of the script we changed. Nothing was removed because it was "northern slang" (the MPs accusation) and Wallace still says "chuck" and praises the "cracking toast." The material was simplified so as to make it accesible to foreign learners in their first year of learning English. The adaptation was done with great care so that Wallace’s character and accent were maintained. Other changes were because the vocabulary was too advanced, or the grammar too difficult at that stage. We did not change things because they were "northern" or "wrong".
Karen Some of the things that Wallace says are funny in our culture, because he says things that are ‘quaint’&endash; that is, no one would say them nowadays. For example, he said in the original episode 1, " Any post, was there? Perchance?’ We changed it to, ‘Is there any post? For me?’ Perchance is Shakesperian! He also says ‘I’ll get the bounder!’ in episode 6. We changed this to ‘I can catch him.’ "bounder" is 1920’s upper class slang&endash; and it’s not northern English at all. The words ‘perchance’ and ‘bounder’ are funny because of their cultural references. Students below upper intermediate level are not going to understand this, and nothing’s worse than a joke that’s taken ten minutes to explain! By simplifying it, we have lost this level of language and humour, but it is still very funny!
OUP What is your opinion about using a regional accent to teach an international language?
Peter Oxford University Press has been using a wide range of regional accents in ELT recorded materials for at least twenty years. I think OUP were the first to do so, though all the major ELT publishers have been doing the same for years too. "Streamline" had a range of accents. I started teaching nearly thirty years ago, and it was generally realized then that foreign learners had to be exposed to a range of accents in English&endash; British RP, American, Australian, British regions, Indian, Carribbean … It’s only through exposure to a wide range that they learn to understand whatever may come at them! The whole idea that you are teaching foreigners to speak with a particular accent is misguided. Research indicates that students’ final accents in English are based on their mother tongue, not on the accent of their teacher nor of taped materials.
Karen Some people didn’t want us to have transcripts, but students ask for them if they don’t get them. Anyway, the transcript is only part of the key to the unit. There are exercises on pictures, action, sound effects and so on, and the transcript doesn’t help you with these. When we tested video material with and without transcripts, we found that students felt cheated if they didn’t have the script after the lesson. And the next day their scripts would be covered with highlighter, and translations and so on&endash; the transcript made them go home and spend another hour working on English of their own accord. That has to be positive. We’d persuade then not to look at it before or during the lesson though.
OUP What sort of British cultural background information can students gain from the film?
Peter It’s very rich indeed. We’ve included notes on background and the situation in the Teacher’s Book. Wallace lives in a mythical England, but it’s the England of Beano and Dandy comics, and though everything in Wallace’s world is slightly retro, it’s full of very British images.
Karen For example, when the penguin switches on the radio in episode 2, you hear a very catchy organ tune. It’s incredibly irritating when you can’t remember the title of a song, so we explain in the Teacher’s Book that it’s ‘Tie A Yellow Ribbon’.
OUP Are you fans of Nick Park's work?
Peter We started out as great fans of Nick Park&endash; you know, two Academy Award panels can’t be wrong&endash; but ended up as greater ones.This was a very long job, looking at the material frame-by-frame over several months. Remember, we had to try to match every lip movement with the new dialogue. The same number of syllables, the same mouth movements for vowels and consonants. When the original animation was done, the voice was recorded before the film was made. That’s the only way you can do it. We had to go in and fit the same mouth movements with simplified English. So we watched it many, many times …
Karen The more you examine it, the better it gets. This makes for good video material. A lot of stuff designed for TV won’t stand up to the repeated viewing necessary in the ELT class. This just gets better the more you watch it.
OUP Who is your favourite character?
Peter Gromit.
Karen Gromit.
OUP What are you working on at the moment?
Peter We’ve just finished filming ENGLISH CHANNEL THREE: DOUBLE IDENTITY, which is a comedy thriller set in Oxford. Like Grapevine videos, and the rest of English Channel, it features Steve Steen and Jim Sweeney, but this time in a one hour continuing story. The cast is almost the OUP repertory company. Martyn Ball (from the TV series ‘Keeping Mum’), Cathryn Harrison, Gabrielle Cowburn, Bruce Alexander (from ‘A Touch of Frost’), Simon Schatzenburger … you’ll know the faces. We’re sorting out the still photos this week, then starting on the Student Book.
Karen But it’s the school holidays as we’re writing this, and as every teacher and parent will know, you don’t get that much done with the family around all day.

Also available: A Close Shave and A Grand Day Out


Top of Page

| Books | Exercises | Videos | Resources | Home |
©Peter & Karen Viney 2004.