TV comedy writer and director, Neil Ben, discusses his thirty-year career with Free Time - and the recent revival of a cherished series he shelved for more than a decade he now hopes can be destined for the big time.

“Eden in the Parade is an adult comedy drama - a rom com,” he says.

“It took a couple of years to write in the late 90s and I pitched it to six producers at the time who loved it, and one even took it on.

“But we couldn’t get the ending right despite a strong story. So it just sat on the shelf for 15 years."

“Then, I was doing a self-development workshop recently and the ending just came to me.”

Neil has lived in Watford for 30 years and grew up in Hertfordshire.

He had begun writing Eden in the Parade with his longstanding friend and partner, Paul Hocker, whom he met while involved with the Chickenshed theatre company in the early 90s.

Before that, Neil had worked in tv production for children’s educational programmes he said were “not the normal boring dry stuff”, such as Words and Pictures, Number Time and Megamaths.

“The key to combining entertainment and education was to make the punchline of the sketch or the dramatic climax coincide with the point you want the kids to remember - people remember that emotional feeling” – a definitive technique Neil learned from fellow script writers while working at the Children’s Television Workshop.

Eden in the Parade started life very differently from the six-episode feature it is today, he says – but the storyline, which he hopes to pitch to Channel 4, remains the same in principle.

“The theme is equality and inclusion,” he says, “done in a very sweet way.

“Eden Parade is an oasis in London where everyone is accepted and loved.

“There is some romance - an outsider comes in and falls for our protagonist. He’s a bit of a drifter, a traveller, and they fall for each other - but she has something neither he nor the audience realises. That’s all I can say.

“I hope people will laugh a lot, shed a tear and perhaps learn something about themselves and others they hadn’t known before. It goes all the way back to making the dramatic punchline the point you want to make.”

Neil feels his own struggles with spina bifida are reflected in this new work and that the project has matured alongside his own personal development.

“I’ve had to deal with the physical and emotional side. The physical I can’t change - it is the way it is.

“But I can change the way I look at it. So, in turn, the work has matured as I have matured, and now the characters are more well-rounded and with more depth.”

Neil has lived in Watford for over 30 years. He joined the BBC with an IT degree before “making a nuisance of himself” until he was finally asked what he wanted: “To make TV programmes,” he said.

His first assignment was writing one of the Blue Peter Christmas pantos in 1988. He then took part in creating maths and education programmes in 1989 as a trainee assistant producer.

While working in IT he continued doing children’s theatre and working at Great Ormond Street’s hospital radio.

Before long, he was working at the Children’s Television Workshop who produced Sesame Street, writing comedy sketches and directing.

In the late 90s, Neil “fell in love” with the Chickenshed theatre company before writing for Dick & Dom’s Friday Show on the BBC, and later creating a 13-episode kids’ series called Mega Mutt.

He has also worked on the Teletubbies, Beachcomber Bay an animated puppet series, and directed poker and DIY programmes before becoming a freelance director.

Neil also said he received a BAFTA nomination for Just So Darwin, an animated series he produced in 2009 marking Charles Darwin’s 200th anniversary.

When Neil recently revived Eden in the Parade and showed it to his co-writer an friend, Paul Hocker, Paul said: “You’ve got it.”

Neil said: “All I need now is a great comedy producer - watch this space.”

To contact Neil, email

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