Interview with Raymond Thompson and Harry Duffin | 2000

In this interview, we are pleased to put forward 20 questions to the creators and devisors of the Tribe, Raymond Thompson (who is also the Executive Producer) and Harry Duffin (who is also the Script Consultant for the series). The answers to the questions are given below as RT for Raymond Thompson, and HD for Harry Duffin.

We would like to thank Raymond Thompson and Harry Duffin for their time as they are extremely busy working on Tribe Series 2.

Editor’s note: this interview is saved from original Tribeworld website.


1. What are your names?

Raymond Thompson (RT) and Harry Duffin (HD)

2. Where did the idea for The Tribe come from?

RT: I have always been intrigued with the notion of a new world order which probably emanates from coming of age in the 60`s where young people were tremendously affected by the cultural explosion of music, fashion and political climate at the time. Over the years, and with each generation, there has been an element of the rebellious, a feeling that the adults have somehow “screwed up” and that the new generation can build a better world. So the tribe has been simmering for several years in my mind in abstract terms and is a great vehicle to portray the theme of the young inheriting the earth and rebuilding society in their own image (the prime theme of the series is examination of whatever that image might be).

HD: A magical moment for Ray Thompson. One of those gifts a writer sometimes gets, if he/she listens hard enough. Never question where a great idea comes from, just say ‘thanks’ and use it.

3. From the idea and concept for the series that became The Tribe, what was the process involved in turning it from an idea - into a series? How was the idea expanded and developed into a series?

RT: As a writer with a reasonable track record I have been approached on several occasions to develop new products which tends to be derivative of past successes. I enjoyed enormous acclaim working on Howard`s Way and for a time was approached to develop further soaps which was not really of any interest to me.

When I was approached by Nick Wilson of Channel 5 to develop a soap for the millennium targeting a child/adolescent market I was attracted by the notion of structuring a normal framework for human interplay within an abnormal backdrop. I have often described The Tribe as Mad Max meets Neighbours or The Terminator meets Home And Away and was particularly encouraged by Nick`s supportive attitude to really push the boundaries and let my imagination go to develop a series with attitude which could be edgy and as unique as I want it (limited only by the imagination) as long as the issues remain truthful and reflected the world children and young people inhabit.

I had worked with Harry Duffin on several occasions and admired his skill as a writer but, above all, his interest in producing quality television which we both believe can only be achieved with conviction and integrity and I thought that Harry would be an ideal collaborator.

Harry also shares a love of writers and the creative process. After we exchanged thoughts and ideas we wrote an initial treatment (which basically is a series synopsis and character breakdown) we recruited a team of writers and began discussing the premise.

This process is a fulfilling and rewarding one whereby each member of the writing team contributed to the creative discussion and within the brief and before long the tribe started to take shape.

HD: how long have I got? Basically, Ray and I tossed around potential characters, and I chatted with a fellow writer, Mike Kenny, who works closely with the age-group, about teenagers attitudes today, because my two daughters are grown up, so I`m not as in touch with teenage life as regularly as I used to be [sadly].

From there we produced a basic premise, only a page or two, character outlines, and an outline for episode one [which changed in the development process, as they always do]. Then I got together a team of writers, [about ten initially] and we developed the story format.

5. Was there anything you were particularly looking to include in how The Tribe evolved?

RT: I was personally very keen to develop a series that would challenge and stimulate an audience rather than rely on lowest common denominator storylines and I think the tribe certainly poses some interesting questions about the world we all inhabit. Interwoven with this I was very keen to portray an attitude and look so that the characters, as well as the world they inhabit, remained creditable. Young people, for example, through the ages have always used fashion to express themselves and I think the look of The Tribe represents young people of the future and says a lot about their attitudes and aspirations.

HD: Problems for our characters to solve in their new world. Problems of technology, how to get clean water, some form of power, and also problems of morality. If there`s no one around to tell you how to behave how do you behave? We¹d all have different answers, like Zoot’s attitude versus Amber’s.


6. What were you not looking to include in the evolution of The Tribe?

RT: Again, I was very keen to push the boundaries and ensure that we did not trivialise the subject matter of The Tribe. With a series of this genre it would be quite easy to become cliché and negative and to side step some of the hard hitting issues that we intended to explore.

And overall, I am very proud that we remained truthful to the original ideal in developing The Tribe and confronted every element rather than run from them to take creative refuge and perhaps ignore the issues we set out to explore. Those issues I believe have been tackled in a multi-dimensional way and I hope are provocative to allow an audience to draw their own conclusions of what is right or wrong in the realisation that the very root of morality is often grey and we have tried to portray that (ie. that issues are not only black and white and often grey).

HD: First and foremost, we didn’t want to glorify violence. In the anarchic world of The Tribe, [like our own world, sadly] some form of violence is inevitable. But there’s quite enough in the commercial cinema, and we wanted to show there are different things to aspire to.

7. Why are there so many main characters?

RT: It is essential to fuel storylines via the character interplay.

HD: For a ‘soap’ there aren’t that many characters. Most UK soaps have over twenty and counting. As The Tribe develops, no doubt we’ll introduce new characters and increase the number too. But like any story with a vast canvas, [as we hope ours has], you need a number of main characters to fuel the storylines. Think of most of Dickens novels, or Vanity Fair or any number of great stories.

8. What audience age group were you looking to aim at when developing The Tribe?

RT: The Tribe is targeted primarily at an audience age of 8 to 18 but we believe that the series can be enjoyed by all outside that age group who are interested in soaps with the subject matter.

HD: From eight to eighty. I¹ve always believed that a great story for kids, should be able to be enjoyed by adults. Go to any classic Disney film in the cinema and watch the adults gazing spellbound. Have you seen Toy Story?. A great script. Beats the newest Star Wars effort hands down for story and character.

9. Why are there no adults in the series?

RT: All the adults have died within our storylines but some adults might appear at some point…

HD: Haven’t you been paying attention? They’ve all been wiped out by the virus! Or have they…? Wait and see…

10. How long did The Tribe take to create and develop - over what period of time?

RT: In actual real time approximately two years to bring the first series to fruition (ie from the time I discussed the project with Nick Wilson at Channel 5 to the time the first series was broadcast) but, as previously mentioned, I have wanted to do this series for several years as it houses radical issues which are both profound and dramatic - and I know that Harry Duffin has also wanted to explore these as well for a very long time.

HD: About ninety years - which is how long Ray and I have been fascinated by stories and story-telling. Oh, you mean actually? Ray threw the idea at me in November ['97] and we produced our first block of four scripts by July ['98].

11. Why are the main Tribe characters based in a shopping mall?

RT: We needed a base where the Tribe could interact as a group for both logistical reasons and creative. Within the shopping mall there is also intriguing shops for the characters themselves to inhabit so that privately and collectively the writers have a unique framework to explore the character development and interplay.

HD: Mazlo’s hierarchy of needs states that one of womankinds basic priorities is safe shelter [and mankinds, for that matter.] The mall is defendable, [to a degree], it’s got separate places for our guys to make their own, and more importantly, it keeps all our main characters together, which for us writers is essential. Otherwise you’d have a lot of scenes with people talking to themselves. Very boring.

12. Is The Tribe meant to be set anywhere in particular?

RT: The Tribe is set anywhere in the world.

HD: No. It’s supposed to be universal, really. In the universe, but who knows where? Is it on earth? Maybe. Only time, and the muse, will reveal all…

13. How did you decide upon the issues that would feature in the storylines - such as environmental messages, teenage pregnancy or bulimia?

RT: I think young people have always been very much in tune spiritually and tend to be more elemental than material and this is always an interesting area to explore which usually manifests in themes of idealism. As far as other issues in rebuilding a new world we are able to focus on technology and the environment and science and all that that entails which provides fuel for good storylines. We have also tried to examine issues that young people live everyday of their life from bullying to bulimia and all of this has been interwoven with the emotional interplay which always drives the best drama (ie the examination of inner conflict and the loves, fears, betrayals and ambitions within a group of people).

HD: Look around you, buddy. What’s out there is what we use. We don’t want to preach, but we do want to reflect life as it really is. Bulimia is a tragedy that often affects teenage girls a very close friend of mine suffered from it, and it’s her experience that drove our story for Salene. It’s the same with every issue we include. What’s more important than the environment, the world we rely on for our very life? [except maybe our latestboy/girlfriend, rave, movie idol?] I joke. Our main aim is to entertain and engage an audience, but if the series gets some people thinking, who wouldn’t otherwise have thought about things, then that’s great.

14. Are there any ideas that were considered in the development of The Tribe - but that were not used?

RT: The creative process is a painful and arduous one and ideas are forever being dropped or changed. And so approximately 10% of ideas discussed end up being scripted and even then end up evolving right up until the material is shot and committed. Its organic. The strength for any good series lies in the writing. That is the sole creative area. All other areas are interpretive (although that process itself requires a creative expertise) in the sense that someone has interpreted something that a writer has created.

HD: Tons. For every ten ideas thrown up in development, maybe only a couple would be used. It’s an experiment. What works, what doesn’t work? And that’s only a matter of opinion, of taste, instinct. Some names, like Zoot [dreamed up by our lead writer, Dave Fox] come ready made. Others you have to work at, like choosing a name for a baby. What works for Paula Yates might not be right for you or me. Secret: Bob, the dog, was originally called Sherbert, but the dog responded better to it’s real name, and the youngsters in the cast had made friends with the real dog and kept calling it Bob during the takes. After about take twenty was ruined, it was decided to give up and let the dog win.


15. What messages does The Tribe say to its audience?

RT: I hope the message is a positive one. The notion of what happens in a series is totally different to what a series is about. Everyone knows what happens in The Tribe but that is not necessarily what the series is about and I would hope that the Mall Rats tribe and their aspirations and triumphs through their various encounters and adversities is a shining testament which will inspire a viewer to realise that human grasp can, and does, extend beyond reach and that there is always hope whereby good triumphs in the end.

The prime underlying thematic is young people rebuilding a new world and in that context the theme is a profound one about conscientiousness determining existence or existence determining conscientiousness.

Editor’s note: ah look and Ray revisited that thought in his final season 5 A.I. showdown.

This question and theme has challenged humanity since time began and it is doubtful whether there is an answer to that question.

The soul of that question has inspired some of the greatest political minds of our time and although Marxist dogma might fall on the side that existance determines conscientiousness - I hope that the Tribe portrays that conscientiousness, in the end determines existence.

Within our character interplay we have structured various voices to represent all kinds of theories (ie. Tai-San is mystical, Bray the elemental, Jack the practical, et cetera) but within the human condition overall I believe that the emotions of all the characters in the Tribe lies within us all. Some aspects are dormant, others lie sleeping and just need to awaken, others run rampant. But overall I think the storylines will entertain on one level, but on another level I sincerely hope that that are provocative enough for an audience to question whom why, what, where.

HD: I think I’ve answeres some of that earlier. We’re not trying to ‘educate’, but we are trying to provoke a response. And yes, out main ‘hero’ characters do have a positive attitude to life. I know Zoot is very popular (some of you guys are very weird!) but would you really like him as your own best mate? Boyfriend? You could argue that he is being positive in his own way, I guess, the only way he knows how in a dangerous world, but putting the world back together again isn’t just about looking after number one, is it?

16. What do you feel is the best thing about the Tribe - and why?

RT: I think the best thing about The Tribe is its vision and scope and the fact that it is a landmark series ­ and a brave one for all concerned to embark upon.

HD: Everything. I love it. It’s a crazy world and guess what? It’s set to get crazier yet!

17. What advice would you give to anybody reading this who might have their own idea for a series - how should they go about progressing it?

RT: Writing is like everything else in life and if a person believes in something then they must vigorously pursue it no matter what anyone else thinks if they believe in their heart that what they are seeking is right. No-one has a monopoly on what is good or bad in writing - it is purely subjective and it has been my experience that the key to success as a writer - like anything else in life - is patience and persistance. Nothing succeeds like persistance - but it can take some time and this requires patience.

HD: The most common problem about series ideas is that though they may be exciting initially, they often don’t have what we call ‘legs’ in our business. That means the premise won’t hold or develop over a period of time. So my best advice is, don’t write episode one, write episode ten, or a hundred and ten. If it’s still exciting then, you may have a winner.

18. Is The Tribe a one-off series or an on-going series?

RT: Harry Duffin and I, and indeed all members of the Cloud 9 team, believe that The Tribe can run forever. But the ultimate deciding factor is the audience. As long as the fans want to view the series and then every member of the team will be happy to produce it.

HD: Ray and I think it can last forever. But that’s for you guys to decide. It’ll last as long as you watch it.

19. When is the tribe set - how long after the adults disappeared?

RT: Notionally we think in terms of 9 months after the adults disappear.

HD: We figured about six to nine months.

20. What about series 2 of the tribe - what aspects do the back-story elements look at?

RT: With the series of the tribe we have a definitive story structure about the world our characters inhabit. The characters themselves also have their own history and in series 2 we explore an interesting back story and will continue to show elements of what happened before which I think will interest viewers when they are witnessing what happens now and second guessing what will happen in the future.

HD: There’s a great back-storyline about how Bray, Ebony, Trudy and Zoot were before the virus. If you ever wanted to know how Zoot became the Zoot we all love to hate, all will be revealed in series two.

harry’s answer to Q14 contradicts what’s written in ray’s book.

used to think zoot name was taken from old tom & jerry cartoon, zoot suit episode

Yes it does, interesting huh.
Because I think Ray stated he called himself Zoot at a job stint in his teens.

But since it’s an interview off tribeworld, maybe both is correct.