Rob Gilroy

R.I.P Charlie Phillips

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(c) BAFTA/Richard Kendal

Such is the way when writing a weekly column; you know what you’re going to write and then, in the run up to submission, life jumps in and forces your hand.

It’s like being on the front line of Sky News – forsaking any sense of journalistic integrity to get the story out on time. But it’s OK because I roll with the punches, me.

The reason for this week’s derailing is a sad one. Last night as I peeled my dry, widened eyes away from my computer for sleep, I noticed some terrible news. Renown TV Editor, Charlie Phillips, has passed away.

The name might not mean much to people, but Charlie Phillips had his hand in a great many shows that we know and love, from Psychoville, Human Remains and The Thin Blue Line to Saxondale, Shooting Stars and High Spirits with Shirley Ghostman. Not to mention the BAFTA he received for his work on Sherlock, as well as his additional contributions to great programmes such as Knowing Me, Knowing Yule with Alan Partridge and Jekyll.

And let’s not forget Dr Terrible’s House of Horrible – an underrated classic.

Giggle Beats have covered the tragic news here; and it’s a good that they did. Charlie helped shape the tone and pace of every show he worked on, yet this sad news could so easily be overlooked.

That’s the problem with creating something for film and TV; so much of it is a collaboration – between writers, directors, editors, lighting, make-up, costumes, admin staff – and yet, it’s the on-screen talent we remember most.

It’s probably for good reason; I never met Mr Phillips, but who knows, he might not have been much to look at. Yet, it’s a shame that so much hard work, from a great many people, goes unappreciated.

It’s not even that it’s unnoticed; if done properly, every perfectly-timed cut or musical flourish, every change in lighting or sound effect elicits the response it needs. People appreciate the work of these hidden experts, even if they don’t realise it.

Like comedy, the magic of television comes from making peoples’ hard work invisible. There’s a real skill in appearing effortless. Anyone who’s used Windows Movie Maker will know how frustrating editing can be.

Imagine if that was your job, and the success of a show rested on your ability to make a story flow naturally, piecing together whole episodes from vastly different takes and shots. Ideally without using Arial 12pt for captions.

The work of the editor is important, Charlie is important.

Comedy in particular, has a very strong relationship with editing. Yes, a lot of performances are down to natural timing – but so much of it is helped by the editors’ diligence and attention to detail; making every badly plotted story seem deliberate, and every half-arsed performance feel fresh and exciting.

You only need to look at a show like Psychoville to see how much work an editor has to do. (With the exception of episode four, as it was filmed in two shots – presumably Charlie took a half day for that one.)

It’s like a constantly moving jigsaw; piecing together disparate stories and characters so it feels complete – jumping from one thread to the next, while making sure the tension is always mounting.

Steve and Reece created a world that was instantly recognisable – if a tad eccentric – brilliant characters and a story that kept you guessing; the equally great Matt Lipsey was fundamental in bringing those elements to life, and then it was up to Charlie to bring it all together – the perfect package for the audience.

Editors do more than just stick one scene next to another; they help bring a show to life. Something as richly textured as Human Remains doesn’t just fall together, it’s painstakingly crafted.

As I say, it’s easy to let this detailed skill wash over you – that’s the whole point after all – but sometimes it’s nice to stop and acknowledge the hard work people have put in, helping make those much-loved shows loveable.

It’s a shame we can only acknowledge Charlie now, too late for him to see how much his work is appreciated. Yet, while comedy has lost a talented man, his talent lives on, discreetly.

My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.