My late father-in-law and mentor used to keep a filing drawer labelled ‘The Graveyard of Good Ideas,’ which he thought were brilliant but had been unable to sell to clients.

DSA in full flight

David Scott-Atkinson was a colourful PR guy whom I first met in the early 70s, when he brought guests to a daily chat show I was doing for CBC. Over the years we became good friends, especially after he acquainted me with the concept of a ‘gentleman’s portion.’ I hardly need mention that he was a Brit. He later introduced me to his ‘eldest unmarried daughter,’ who became the mother of my three children. David wore sandals all year round, a fresh red carnation in his buttonhole every day and had his suits made on Saville Row in London. At one time he had his shirts laundered exclusively at The Savoy Hotel laundry. This entailed owning over 100 identical white shirts, which went regularly by train to New York, thence by ocean liner to Southampton and by train to London, and back again neatly washed, starched and pressed.

The vanity plate on his car read ‘ONLY ME.’ His company was called Scott-Atkinson Only, as he was mostly a sole practitioner, though he often quoted his mythical partner Dr. Only, who was always out if anyone asked. The good doctor was also author of With Fork and Spoon Through China, an indication of David’s somewhat English Public School-boyish sense of humour.

For a while in the early 80s, I shared space in his office and worked for him as a freelancer. One day he came back from a meeting with his client, the publisher of Harlequin Romances, who had failed to bite at his latest publicity scheme. He had proposed a ‘Registry of Happy Marriages’ to be located in Niagara Falls, Canada’s honeymoon capital. “Into the Graveyard of Good Ideas it goes,” he instructed his long-suffering secretary.

Over the years I have developed my own graveyard: ideas created and developed and never implemented, or completed and abandoned, or just plain rejected.

I suppose my first big disappointment was an early screenplay, an idea not unlike The Love Boat but set in a hotel. It preceded Hotel California by a few years, but the principle of “You can check in any time you like, but you can never leave,” was part of the story. A producer took it to Hollywood and returned with disappointing news. It became the first denizen of what was to become the graveyard. However, a few years later watching television, I saw my exact plot on another series, including using the very same names I had invented. My idea resurrected from the dead. The producer ended up in jail for fraud, so I suppose it is possible he flogged my script and kept the dosh.

Much rejected novel*

Ritchie Yorke, then a popular journo covering the rock and roll field, and I came up with an idea for a show featuring videos of music acts. A CBC executive turned it down because a) nobody in their right mind would watch endless videos of music acts, he said, and b) it contravened their agreement with the then powerful Musicians’ Union which forbade prerecorded music clips on the national broadcaster. Drowning our sorrows in the bar of a popular drinking spot on Jarvis Street, opposite the CBC’s Kremlin, we basically gave the idea away to a producer who went on to create Much Music. He and MTV proved that executive wrong.

After writing scripts for years, I thought I’d try my hand at long form fiction. As a voracious reader of crime novels, I started to write one. Walking the dog was a great excuse to think up scenes and dialogue in my head and then rush home and pound them into the keyboard. Along the way, I took a fiction writing course at George Brown College. That depressed me more than ever when I discovered I’d tackled it all wrong. I began again. Then I took writing guru Robert McKee’s Story Seminar and got even more depressed at why my great idea wasn’t coming together. Finally, the book was finished and I proudly delivered it to my agent. She had great connections in the book business and shopped it around all 15 then-extant Canadian publishers. Fifteen rejection slips later it went into the graveyard.

Circus act going nowhere**

For a few years I was friendly with an executive at Cirque du Soleil. He told me, over dinner one evening in Montreal, that Cirque was looking outside their tent for new ideas. I pitched him a concept I had for a complete theme, which he loved and encouraged me to develop. I worked for a year on the project and sent it up to him by courier. He promised to personably place it on founder Guy Laliberté’s desk. A few weeks later I received the unopened package back, with a snotty note reading: “Cirque does not accept outside ideas.” When I phoned the office of their creative director, I was told that my executive friend, who had by then left the company, had been “mistaken,” and that Cirque never even read outside ideas for fear of being accused of plagiarism. Until that time I had been a loyal Cirque fan and had seen all of their traveling shows. I have not been to one since. So there.

When I first met Diane, she’d had meetings with a London-based entrepreneur and wine merchant with the glorious name of Duncan Vaughan-Arbuckle. He was the founder and developer of the huge Vinopolis wine world on London’s nascent South Bank, slotted between the historic Borough Market and the faux Elizabethan Globe Theatre. Duncan was in talks to open a second branch in Toronto and a financier Diane knew had engaged her to be the point person in Canada. I loved the idea and vigorously pursued it. Alas, it stumbled. First, Duncan had a massive heart attack and withdrew. Then, without his guiding hand, Vinopolis was sold on and he lost the rights to the name. Finally, after stalling us for a couple of years, the Ontario Realty Corporation turned down our application to buy a disused distillery on the edge of the Distillery District. A Corking Good Journey tells the story. A decade later, the unloved building still sits unused.

Ill fated who-dunnit cast***

Into the graveyard it went, only to be revived a couple of years later, when another entrepreneur wanted to open it on the Bund in Shanghai. A perfect location was identified and all looked as if it was going to happen, when a local lad with an influential daddy decided he’s like to open a jazz club in the property we’d been negotiating over. The warning for those wishing to do business in the PRC is that a firm contract is only the start of negotiations. Back to the drawing board, or in this case the graveyard. Perhaps it was just as well, since Vinopolis itself foundered during the pandemic and closed it’s doors for good.

Nestled in amongst the good ideas are those which looked good at the time, but turned out not so well. The most expensive of these was a campy drama series loosely styled after the cozy murder mysteries so popular on Masterpiece Theatre. The sets were built, the cast were hired and a lovingly crafted pilot was shot in CBC’s big old Studio 7.  I blame no one else but myself – it just didn’t work. In fact it was awful and was gratefully chucked without ceremony into the graveyard and never seen again.

And what of other projects I’m currently working on? They are all my creative babies and I love them from the moment of conception. But of course, some will fall by the wayside and will end up in the graveyard. It was ever thus with creativity. Writing this story has been splendidly cathartic. As Robert McKee says: “Keep writing until they are patting you in the face with a shovel.”

Featured image: Part of the actual Graveyard of Good Ideas

NOTES: *Custom dreamcatcher by Nick Huard, design by Todd Morgan. **Original watercolour illustration by NNA from the Shujaa presentation, design by Todd Morgan. ***Cast and producer on set – L to R: Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny in 007 films), NNA, Barry Morse (Lt Gerard in The Fugitive), Bruce Murray (younger bro of Anne Murray) and Don Cullen (Wayne and Shuster) (CBC photo).

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This is Nigel’s 365th blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories, or check under CATEGORIES.

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