16 November, 2023
James Davern died this week. I’m sorry, I don’t use euphemisms; I don’t think he was too keen on them either. He was my friend and mentor for nearly sixty years, and I will miss him greatly. As will his beloved family and so many, many others. Larger than life, that was Jim. Renaissance man, that was him too. Writer, producer, sailor, winemaker, patron of the arts, amateur astronomer and mentor to many.
Much has been written already and more will be, but I am addressing my fellow Guild members, so I will stick to the Jim I knew as writer and producer. After all, it was he who got me started on this mad, marvellous career.
Of course this is just my opinion, but I found him the perfect producer because he’d not only been a director but – and this is way more important – he was also a writer, with a long list of credits to his name; shows such as Bellbird, Alpha Scorpio, Homicide, Rush, Skyways, Patrol Boat and many others, with AWGIE Awards for both Alpha Scorpio and Patrol Boat. Jim understood the script and the story and the characters. He understood structure – where it all worked and where it didn’t and how to fix it. Like the rest of us, he had an ego but it wasn’t overwhelming. He wasn’t always right and occasionally he’d admit it, and he was quite prepared to listen (rare in a producer). In the early years, when he’d be present at script meetings, he always enjoyed the collegiate creativity they engendered, and he’d certainly inspire the rest of us. And of course he understood that writers needed endless coffee and chocolate, a good lunch and wine at the end of the day. Such things went without saying.
Jim had a unique style of editing. Clearly written notes meant you would probably get a pass. But OMG, if four exclamation marks in blue crayon covered the page, that meant …! Well, the thing was, we never knew what it meant. You had to work it out for yourself. The horrors you had committed would supposedly jump off the page. So read, mark, learn and correct. Understood? Not exactly, no.
But he was also quick with his praise. Not just to the writers, but to the crew, the directors and the actors. He wanted us all to feel good, part of the team. Especially he wanted the writers and the actors to all become the best of friends. I remember one occasion when there had been a tiny bit of friction. A party was therefore arranged and it was made very clear that we were expected to attend.
I think the margaritas were the big mistake. I don’t think that was Jim’s idea, he was a wine person. Probably someone in production. Needless to say, it did not turn into the desired love-fest. After all, margaritas are around 33% ALC/VOL.
As I’ve said elsewhere, very few people had a bad word to say about Jim. His enthusiasm for the job at hand, his good humour and his boundless generosity at every level endeared him to all. I have no idea how many lives he touched but he changed mine forever when he forgave my first script for Bellbird and gave me another chance. And I know I’m not alone there.
Vale, James. Close the computer, pop the scripts in the bottom drawer and sail away on smooth seas with a fair wind behind you. We owe you a lot.
– Judith Colquhoun