In 1982 I was asked by an American television producer if I would be interested in going to Kuwait to write a 26 part drama series for the Amalgamation of Gulf Arab States Television. With some apprehension, I accepted the assignment, which I knew from the moment I arrived was going to be quite a challenge.
Challenge, I think, is an understatement! Apart from the fact that Kuwait in those days was quite a difficult place to live in (constant temperatures of 40°C plus during the summer months), a drama series written by a westerner for the Arab world was a minefield. On my initial visit of six months, I learnt the hard way how different our two cultures are, and had to spend a great deal of my time there rethinking situations in the scripts that would be commonplace on any western television screen. Fair enough, but it certainly gave me plenty of sleepless nights, especially as the whole project was being overlooked by the academic staff of Kuwait University. It was also pretty lonely down there, sitting in an apartment overlooking the waters of the Gulf, trying to write about a culture and people that, until that time, I had only researched in books. However, living amongst them helped enormously, and I did in fact make quite a lot of warm-hearted friends down there, especially amongst the staff of the television studios.
It was here also that I was rescued from almost complete isolation by Duncan Kenworthy, now one of Britain’s most distinguished film producers, who at that time was under contract to the Childrens’ Television Workshop in New York, setting up the Arabic version of 'SESAME STREET'. This is where Duncan and I first met, and he proved to be what he has remained to this day, a true and loyal friend. During this time I also had the welcome relief of a visit by my friend and television partner, David Spenser, who came to discuss with me my adaptation of Rider Haggard’s 'SHE', which he was in the process of directing for BBC Radio. He also brought me all the news and gossip from a place that seemed a million miles away – home!
The series itself was called 'BAIT ABU KHALED' (The House of Abu Khaled), and told, as the title implies, of the daily life of a Gulf Arab family, their relationships with each other and with the communities in which they lived, a kind of Arabian soap opera. The interior scenes were shot in the studios of Kuwait Television, and also on location throughout the Gulf, which meant Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and yes, even Iraq. The series, which was also dubbed into English for U.S. expat viewers, was produced just prior to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and the subsequent first Gulf War. After it was all over, however, it was with great sadness that I heard how some of my dear friends in the television station there had been killed during the conflict.
I am including a few photographs here of that eventful time in my life. They include some of the Bedouin tribesmen we met whilst journeying through the desert. I hate to admit that the camels and mule were unpaid extras!
There are plenty of stories I can tell you about my period in Kuwait. If you’re interested in hearing any of them, do send me an email.