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Interviews with Greg Davies and guest stars in The Cleaner

 

What can viewers expect from The Cleaner, and why should they tune in?

The Cleaner is a comedy about a man who has made it his job to mop up the horrible aftermath of crimes and accidents. To Wicky, a bloodbath is just an obstacle between him and his next pint. Each week he attends a different ‘crime scene’ and meets a new character associated with whatever had happened. Each episode is totally different the only constant being a man with an everyman curiosity and a determination to leave things spotless. It’s also very silly at times and I hope funny.

I think it’s a unique show in that the cleaner is the only constant character. The bizarre life events that have led to him being called unfold differently every week, and he finds himself in strange situations talking to people he has no frame of reference for.

This is a departure from your previous writing style, how was that for you?

Each episode is generally a two-hand ‘play’. I mistakenly thought this would be easier than writing for multiple characters. It is not! It was nice to just focus on Wicky and the person he encounters each week though. It’s a challenge to make them rounded and to give context to the dreadful events that have led them to be spending time with a crime-scene cleaner.

Do you see any of yourself in Wicky, are you a bit of a gossip?

Oh I’m even nosier than he is, but I generally don’t get access to crime scenes. He gets to dip in to bizarre lives, which I’m a bit jealous of to be honest. He also likes a pint and his friends are the friends he has had for a very long time, which is true of me.

You attracted some brilliant co-stars for the series. When you were writing their episodes did you have them in mind, and how was it working with them?

I didn’t dare imagine that people like Helena [Bonham-Carter] would say yes, so I just wrote them, but the scripts certainly evolved once the parts were cast.

Each of episodes are stand-alone with a new case and new people, did you have a favourite and why?

It’s such a cop out answer but I genuinely didn’t. They are all so different and each actor brought new and brilliant things to the part.

Having played Wicky, how good do you think you would be at cleaning up a crime scene now?

As anyone who knows me will testify, I would be the worse crime-scene cleaner on the planet. My home/car regularly look like crime scenes because of my incompetence in the field of domestic work.

Are there any funny anecdotes from filming you can share?

I generally laughed a lot through the series. There was one incident I would love to tell you about, but for now I am sworn to secrecy. Until I establish how much the actor is prepared to pay me not to tell you.

If you ever met a real crime scene cleaner what would you ask them?

I’d apologise and then ask them if we can get together and design a more breathable SOCO* suit for a fat middle-aged man working under lights.

*Scene Of Crime Officer

A word from Helena Bonham Carter

Sheila (Helena Bonham Carter), Paul 'Wicky' Wickstead (Greg Davies)
Sheila (Helena Bonham Carter), Paul ‘Wicky’ Wickstead (Greg Davies)

How was it working with Greg Davies?

It has been brilliant fun working with Greg and the team on The Cleaner. I thoroughly enjoyed playing Sheila, one of the eclectic (and sometimes murderous) mix of characters that ‘Wicky’ comes across during his gruesome but necessary work.

Before this job, thanks to my children, I knew Greg as the really tall man on Taskmaster, but now I know that not only is he genuinely very tall but he is also a brilliant writer, and as nice as he is funny. And he has a lovely mum.

David Mitchell Q&A

Terence Redford (David Mitchell), Paul 'Wicky' Wickstead (Greg Davies)
Terence Redford (David Mitchell), Paul ‘Wicky’ Wickstead (Greg Davies)

Tell us a bit about your character in The Cleaner, and what attracted you that the role.

I play an irascible and self-involved writer apparently oblivious to the gory family tragedy that just happened in his living room. When I read the script, the character’s lines really leapt off the page as immediately funny and speakable. That’s extremely rare, so I was immediately keen to be paid to say them on TV.

What was the most enjoyable part of filming for you?

Breakfast. On location filming shoots, there’s always a fried breakfast available at the start of the day and, having not done any location filming for ages because of Covid, I felt justified in really tucking in. The whole experience of filming a funny script in a house for a few days was such a lovely return to pre-pandemic life all round. We were shooting in April and it was one of the first things that made me believe that life really could get back to normal.

How was it working with Greg Davies?

Excellent all round. He’s an extremely funny and talented man, but also really good company. I was really chuffed that he wanted me involved with the project.

If you ever met a real crime scene cleaner what would you ask them?

What’s the best way of getting blood splatter off a tapestry seat cover.

Ruth Madeley Q&A

Helena (Ruth Madeley), Paul 'Wicky' Wickstead (Greg Davies)
Helena (Ruth Madeley), Paul ‘Wicky’ Wickstead (Greg Davies)

Tell us a bit about your character in The Cleaner. What attracted you to the role?

Helena, my character, is a very proud vegan. She’s proud of her vegan life, and she’s a very ballsy character. She has so much about her, and I personally absolutely love her dry wit. She doesn’t suffer fools and is very aware of who she is and how she wants to live her life.

He’s going to get such a big head after I say this, but the pull for me, mainly, was Greg. We’ve followed each other’s work for quite a while and he was definitely on my bucket list of people who I would love to work with. Also, the fact it was a comedy as well – I do so much drama, and doing an out and out comedy role was an absolute dream. Ican’t think of anyone who I’d want to do that with more than Greg, I was very honoured and very flattered to be asked.

Reading how the character develops in the scripts, and how funny it was, was the icing on cake. It was funny on paper but then it’s even funnier when you are interacting. I loved the fact it was just us two and loved that set up. It was such a nice way to watch Wicky with different characters and to see how he navigates through the world.

What was the most enjoyable part of filming for you? 

That’s such a hard question, there wasn’t one day where I didn’t enjoy it. I loved the big comedic scenes when Wicky jumps over Helena, I genuinely cannot wait to watch it on screen. Or the bit where they are really bonding when they are having a cheeky spliff – it’s just those moments and the little nuances that are really funny.

Our last day on set was when Greg was in the wheelchair, and he had to do a race, and I’ve never seen anybody so exhausted in my entire life, it was so funny to watch! He said, “How do you do this every day, it’s such hard work!”

I can’t think of one thing that wasn’t enjoyable. The team behind the camera was wonderful, a brilliant group of people working on such a fun project. There wasn’t one day that I didn’t want to be there, and I was very sad when it ended.

How was it working with Greg? 

His writing is so clever – the way he puts a story together, and the way he constructs characters, he was an absolute dream, he really was. And there was so much comedy, but he was very sensitive to making sure it was told in the right way. There was also no crassness. There was no, “let’s just throw a disability joke in here for the sake of it”. It was really clear he wanted to make sure it was funny, but also not offensive, and he was a bit of a genius like that.

People often think they can’t make certain jokes about disability, and Greg kept saying, “I want to get this right, I don’t want to upset or offend anybody”. If people are asking those questions it’s a good sign, that they want to get it right. The way he wrote the script and the way he created the character was such a beautiful way to tell the story of every single disabled person who has a non-disabled person constantly thinking about saying the right things and saying the wrong things. 

It genuinely was such a wonderful experience to be able to hear Greg’s thought process around that, and as well as the BBC and Studio Hamburg UK, they really wanted to make sure they got it right and they absolutely did. Every day on set was hysterical, and it was a lovely way to do it, because you could tell that production really cared about representing disability properly but in a really funny way. We need that and the world needs that, especially when we are living in such chaotic times – we just need some out and out comedy! I think Greg’s writing is incredible, and, let’s face it, his acting’s not bad either! He is a wonderful person to work with. 

Are there any funny anecdotes from filming you can share?

The days always started on such a wonderful note in the make-up truck, every day I would say “are you alright?” he’d go “I’m knackered, I’m so tired” – he’d be writing until God knows what time and he would say, ‘I don’t know any of my lines!”, but every day he had me in stitches.

There was a woman who came up to him when we were filming in the park, and asked what we were filming for, Greg replied it was for a BBC One TV production, and she asked him if there was anyone famous coming, and Greg replied “Nah”’. It was the most satisfying moment for me on set, honestly it was so funny, and it was just hysterical, he had a crowd of children watching him and laughing at him trying to race a wheelchair.

If you ever met a real crime scene cleaner what would you ask them?

Everybody who knows me, knows I am a little obsessed with crime, I will watch every crime documentary going, I would probably have a file full of questions for them. I think I’d ask: “what’s the most random body part you’ve had to bag up at the end of the day?” I’ve watched so many things online about crime scene cleaners and one of them said they had to put a human ear in a bag and I thought, goodness me, what a strange way to earn a living!

Stephanie Cole Q&A

Vivien (Stephanie Cole), Paul 'Wicky' Wickstead (Greg Davies)
Vivien (Stephanie Cole), Paul ‘Wicky’ Wickstead (Greg Davies)

Tell us a bit about your character in The Cleaner. What attracted you to the role?

My character Vivien is a frightful old woman, and she’s not a very nice lady at all! She doesn’t care about anyone else, is very selfish and very upmarket. I loved the craziness and the over the top-ness of it – not that we played it over the top, but I think they are all stories that are huge fun to read and to watch.

I had the most wonderful stunt double who did an extraordinary job. They so rarely get praise for their work, and I think the public don’t realise what an amazing job they do.

What attracted me to the role was working with Greg again, who I’d worked with several times and always enjoy hugely because I think he is terrific. It is a wonderful series, and the writing is good, Greg is wonderful and the whole team were absolutely fabulous. It was great fun to do!

What was the most enjoyable part of filming for you?

The most enjoyable part was working with Greg again, which is always a huge delight because he is great fun and he also takes the works very seriously and is extremely good and is a joy to work with. When you do television it is very rare you get somebody who’s not very nice, so it’s usually an absolute joy, but this was joy upon joy because Greg was wonderful to work with and indeed so was everybody else, all the crew, we did laugh a great deal.

I’ve worked with Greg several times now, and I just love it, he is so good at what he does. He is meticulous and great fun, and he appreciates your input. He is just a lovely man.

Are there any funny anecdotes from filming you can share?

I remember it was a very cold day when we filmed with the Aston Martin. It was in the garage, and Greg was in there with the car and I was stood outside and I remember thinking to myself, “there must be an easier way to earn a living”. I also did a lot of laughing when I kept throwing myself over the sofa, we had a giggle about that. The overall feeling was one of great pleasure and fun.

If you ever met a real crime scene cleaner what would you ask them?

Oh, I think I’d have a million questions about how they would go about it, and if they had watched The Cleaner, and also ask how similar a real crime screen cleaner is compared to Wicky in the show.

Layton Williams Q&A

Paul Wicky Wickstead (Greg Davies), Hosea (Layton Williams)
Paul Wicky Wickstead (Greg Davies), Hosea (Layton Williams)

Tell us a bit about your character in The Cleaner – what attracted you to the role?

My amazing, beautiful, talented lol character ‘Home Alone Hosea’ is an influencer and is social media obsessed. He got left by his parents in a big house all by himself when he was younger and he became an internet sensation. But with that of course comes a lot of tougher moments because he didn’t get to see or do much in the real world.

This is why I think the relationship between Hosea and Wicky is so amazing, because they are two very unlikely friends, people you wouldn’t think would get along but they do. But Hosea has a really good heart and by the end of the episode you feel for him and realise he is a good kid. He thinks he is doing these things for the likes on social media, but comes to understand that life is not about the double taps.

When I read the script I remember thinking, this is a bit of me. I kept reading and reading and it was a time when I was taking a break from everything because of the pandemic – theatres were closing and I was free! So it was amazing having a whole episode as a guest ‘star’, even though I don’t like to call myself a star! The line-up is iconic! I mean if Helena Bonham Carter is getting an episode, I wanted one!

When I went to my chemistry read with Greg I saw a medic who was getting all hyped, and I knew they had a story to tell that they wanted to get it off their chest, so I was like, “go on what do you want to say?” and they said “I just had to put a swab down Helena Bonham Carter’s mouth!” I was like, “OH, what’s she doing here?!” and then I realised she was in the cast too and I was like, oh my God!. I am so excited to see everyone else’s episodes and I’m just really privileged to star alongside such a stellar group of people. 

What was the most enjoyable part of filming for you?

The location – it was unreal. The crib we were filming in was iconic, it was all very eco-friendly and everything was self-serviced by natural movements of the light. I don’t know the science behind it, but it was lit and I was really bouncing around the place as if it was mine. Every day was a new fun experience. One day we are on space hoppers, another we are on bicycles, I know it sounds weird, but I don’t ride a bike very often so it was so much fun. Next thing you know we are playing sports games with bats! We were really put through our paces but it was so fun and I was constantly surprised by what was going on in that moment. I beamed all week!

I also loved the costume, the make-up and the set designs – the team was a whole bunch of huns, we were all on the same page and it all just pops on the screen! 

How was it working with Greg?

Working with Greg was iconic – he is an absolute star, and such a lovely guy! You never really know what people are like when you see them on TV, we all put on a persona when we have to, but he is just amazing. We were laughing so much on screen and off screen, and had an absolute lol, we’d be singing all day, it was an absolute pleasure. He was really patient and open to letting me try different things and if I said “Can we try it like this?” or “I think the kids would like this”, that’s not me thinking I’m young, but if I thought something might work he’d say “Yeah go for it!”. So we had lots of improvisation moments which I hope make it in! 

Are there any funny anecdotes from filming you can share?

It was so much fun spraying the jam, even though I did some accidental sprays when I shouldn’t have. I did a pirouette with the syringe in my hand and said “Oh my God, maybe I should try this” and I literally squirted the blood the whole way around the room and it was a clean squirt! I thought, oh no, what am I gonna do! So they had to make me repeat the squirt a few days later for continuity! It was amazing, but don’t go running round doing pirouettes when you are squirting blood because things will get dirty! 

If you ever met a real crime scene cleaner, what would you ask them?

I would ask. “How do you sleep at night?” because I would be traumatised! When I walked in and saw all the blood, it made me feel sick even though it was fake! So ‘How do they turn off from work life and not think about the dead bodies they’ve been cleaning up all day?

Jo Hartley Q&A 

Paul 'Wicky' Wickstead (Greg Davies), Maggie (Jo Hartley)
Paul ‘Wicky’ Wickstead (Greg Davies), Maggie (Jo Hartley)

Tell us a bit about your character in The Cleaner – what attracted you to the role?

I play Maggie, the one that got away. Wicky’s first love and long-term ex-girlfriend. She ran off, married another man, and became an artist, of sorts. Wicky never got over Maggie, she comes up in conversation throughout the series. She’s sassy and ambitious. I turn up in episode six, let’s just say it’s an unexpected reunion. Oh, and she hates blood.

What attracted me to the role was Greg, his hilarious script, the people involved and Tom Marshall [director], who’s super talented and a long-time collaborator.

What was the most enjoyable part of filming for you?

All of it! We had a lot of fun, we filmed in an old cottage in the countryside. Myself and Greg star in the episode, it’s a two-hander, so it was great to just jump in and challenge myself.

How was it working with Greg?

Superb, he’s truly wonderful and very very talented – down to earth, funny and very smart. Never met him before but always admired his work.

If you ever met a real crime-scene cleaner what would you ask them?

Do you take your work home with you?

Sandylands a hybrid of Carry On and seaside postcards

The first series of Sandylands was a hybrid of Carry On and Donald McGill postcards. Bright, colourful end of the pier comedy full of ‘nudge,nudge, wink, wink’ double entendres. Funny, if lines like “My name’s Swallows, Derek Swallows. Please don’t make fun of my name” tickle your funny bone. Funny, if lines like “Welcome to Sandylands Tours, come rain, come shine. Just come” set you chuckling. If you find it funny that the line was delivered by coarse, OTT tour guide Tina Taylor (Harriet Webb) displaying a tattoo on her arm reading ‘Carpet Diem’ (geddit?) maybe Sandylands could be for you.

Sandylands - Episode 03<br /> Picture shows: (L-R) Hugh Bonneville as The One Eyed Man, David Walliams as Derek Swallows and Sophie Thompson as Jeannie Swallows

Imagine if you can that the following conversation, between Derek (David Walliams) and his wife Jeannie Swallows (Sophie Thompson) whilst serving the one eyed man (Hugh Bonneville) at breakfast, was actually delivered by Sid James and Barbara Windsor:

Derek: Can we offer you a cup of Jeannie’s juice
Jeannie: Oh yes I squeeze it myself
Derek: It’s not to everyone’s taste but I can’t get enough
Jeannie: I’ll go and grab one of my jugs
Derek: And I’ll help squeeze

You can almost hear Sid’s cackle and see Babs waddling off.

Fortunately for Gold enough people do like this Carry On style humour to get Sandylands Nominated for Favourite Comedy at the TV Times Awards and warrant a second series.

The main characters, Sanjeev Bhaskar as Les Vegas and particularly Natalie Dew as Emily Verma hold the whole thing together.

PHOTO BY ALISTAIR HEAP

Sandylands is the ideal location for the criminal classes. It is policed by two totally incompetent rookie police officers. Simon Bird playing, well Simon Bird. He has gone from Rudge Park Comprehensive via his parent’s house for dinner on Friday nights to patrolling the streets in the coastal resort with no discernible change in his demeanor. On the beat he is accompanied by an over-zealous, taser happy, officer Trudy Wright (Bronwyn James).

A surreal character is Bob (Darren Strange) a local taxi driver who, for some unexplained reason, only wears an unbuttoned shirt and budgie smugglers: apparently presenting no danger to unaccompanied female passengers. Even more surreal is that in part 3 he is buried up to his neck in the sandy beach for no seemingly relevant reason except to deliver the line “He was buggered by a dolphin right up the blow hole”.

Ahead of its release, the season two synopsis offers a glimpse of what’s in store when Sandylands returns to the screens in October:

“After what feels like an eternity at sea, series two sees our heroic but also law-breaking duo marooned on a beach that could be literally anywhere but turns out to actually still be in Sandylands. A relieved Les and Emily return home only to discover that Emily’s estranged mother Donna Vegas (Tracey-Ann Oberman), is back in town and standing, cocktail in hand, in Les’s Egyptian themed lounge.

With a hefty insurance pay-out on the horizon and yet another unreliable person roped in to keep their secret, only one question remains – will Emily ever escape the clutches of her bickering parents and her seaside hometown?”

Naturally writers Martin Collins and Alex Finch have been talking about the next run, saying;

“We are so excited to be back in Sandylands and working with the brilliant team at UKTV. We can’t wait for everyone to see what we’ve got in store for our incredible cast and are absolutely delighted to be welcoming some amazing new faces on a return trip to the beautiful British seaside.”

Jo Sargent, exec producer for King Bert Productions added in RT: “We’re delighted to be returning to sunny Sandylands for another season and to have Tracy-Ann Oberman joining our illustrious cast. Martin and Alex have outdone themselves with brilliantly funny scripts that will see Les’s estranged ‘widow’ Donna returning home to stake her claim to the Les Vegas business empire and her daughter… in that order! Thank you to the team at UKTV and Gold, the perfect home for this show.”

Series 1 really is harmless seaside postcard stuff which does make you smile sporadically even laugh on occasion, however, very little would need amending to make this suitable for CBeebies.

An interview with Daisy Haggard co-star of Breeders

Was it nice to be back on set for a second series?

Yes, I thought it was fantastic – the scripts are so good about the next phase of parenting so I really enjoyed reading them. I hope everyone loves it as much as we loved making it.

What was the feedback like from friends and fans to the first series?

It was a lot of people going, ’It’s a relief to see something that shows the other side of parenting, not the perfection’. We get enough of that on Instagram! A lot of the time Martin and I as Paul and Ally are worse than the parents watching so they can feel smug. Or we are at least as bad as them, so they feel they’re not alone.

Tell us a bit about the new series: what can we expect?

Well the main thing is that the children aren’t really children any more. I mean, they are, but they have a whole new set of problems and issues relating to their age as they are a bit older. As your child grows up they start to deal with the world in a different way. This series is about how do you navigate that and how do you not mess that up, because it gets more and more crucial as they getmolder, and more intense.

The subjects we are dealing with are things like anxiety and religion and and Paul and Ally’s children making different choices. They are challenged in a different way than the last series, not just in terms of parenting but in terms of their relationship. I love the way this series is handled because it feels as if it’s more intense, with choppier waters.

Can you expand on that?

I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say! Let’s just say they are challenged this time around.

They’ve been together a long time. I don’t know what else I can say without spoiling it! They have bigger problems and more things coming between them that are not to do with the children.

The children start to really develop their own life choices in this series. How do Paul and Ally navigate that?

It’s really tricky. Paul and Ally are quite different from each other – he’s got a shorter fuse, and she therefore has to be ‘good cop’ quite often – but they are feeling their way through it like real parents do. There’s not one ‘right’ way to do it. As a parent you just have to follow your instincts and you don’t always get it right. I think what’s nice about this show is that we don’t often get it right in real life so it does feel quite truthful.

Was it good to work with Martin again?

Yeah, we get on really well and we just like talking to each other in between scenes. He’s very easy to work with. We have a similar sensibility about how to play the parts too so we always have an enjoyable time together.

Is this role less pressured than playing Mimi in your own sitcom, Back To Life?

This is just a real pleasure. I enjoy Back To Life in a different way. Breeders is great because I have one part to play. Whereas on Back To Life I’m constantly going, ‘Oh that person doesn’t seem very happy’ or ‘I need to be doing a rewrite’ or ‘Oh God what’s happening with the budget?’ and ‘Am I going to get home in time for bedtime with my children?’

With this I go in and learn my lines and do my job and have good fun and then go home. It’s really nice. I can even enjoy a nap in my trailer! I have boundaries on this job and they are clearly defined and it’s not ‘everything’ which Back To Life is, which is brilliant but also all-consuming. So this is a treat.

You had a small baby while filming the first series of Breeders. Was it any easier this time around?

Well of course we’d just been in lockdown so to go to work was quite strange. It was tough to be separated from them because we’d all been together for such a long time. I’ve got a three and a six year old now so they’re young and when you’re not home, they really notice it. But the team on Breeders are really lovely and helpful in terms of the schedule. They are really aware of it so that is hugely appreciated, to be able to make a bedtime or take your kids to school sometimes.

I work short chunks in the year so I’m careful to be at home in between and to match the time I’ve been away with being properly, fully around. I have a healthy work-life balance.

Do the storylines in Breeders fill you with terror about what you’ve got to look forward to with your own children?

Yes! The show is always a few years ahead of my own parenting experiences so I film those scenes and think, ‘Oh god, mobile phones, anxiety, all these other things I’m going to have to worry about’.

It’s like a little crash course before I have to do it myself.

This storyline talks a lot about Luke’s mental health. Do you think that’s an important subject to be tackling at this time?

I think it’s incredibly important and especially now, as you say. Because of lockdown, mental health is something a lot of children and adults have had to address. So I think it’s really important and I was really glad that the writers tackled it and I thought they handled it very well.

How do Paul and Ally handle Luke’s problems?

Ally is quite reluctant at first to label him and get him help, and she’s a bit anxious and thinks it might just be a phase. Paul’s super keen to get him some help, so like in any relationship they have different views and then they come to something in the middle. It’s an ongoing thing, not something that’s solved.

As well as the difficult storylines it is, of course, very funny. Do you have any favourite scenes?

I do love the scene where Paul is trying to get the whole family to sit and watch Dancing on Ice but the kids have grown out of it and they’re not really interested, and they’re on their devices, and Paul is just furious with everybody. I think that feels very real. The real details and observations are what makes a comedy funny and what makes me giggle.

Tell me a bit about working with Paul and Ally’s parents – Alun, Joanna and Stella. Do you think they are part of the show’s popularity?

They are scene-stealers, aren’t they? The show’s about whole families, not just about the kids. And so the parents are a big part of that.

You don’t have to have kids to enjoy Breeders. One woman messaged me and said, ‘Thank you. I didn’t have kids and I wasn’t going to watch Breeders in case it made me feel bad about my decision but you’ve fully affirmed it’.

Alun, Joanna and Stella are lovely to work with. There’s some giggling and some lovely chats. It’s a really fun job in that sense. It’s really lovely when you really get to know people as well and you look forward to going back and catching up. It’s a great gang.

And what about the actors who play the two sets of children – the original actors who appear again in flashback, and the new actors?

It was so lovely to see original Luke and Ava! They are so sweet. It just felt like we’d seen them yesterday, to be honest. And the new kids are fantastic. They put me to shame! I had to do a threepage scene with Eve and she was so good. I was the one drying up all the time, not her. They are very strong performers. Three pages is quite a lot.

There’s a line where Paul says, ‘I won’t have peace of mind until a geezer in a black dress is giving me last rites’. Does that ring true to you about parenthood – the constant anxiety?

Um … I suppose it depends what kind of parent you are! I think that quote is brilliant too, and I think it’s great for Paul. I personally have peace of mind once a day, normally when they’re asleep and I’m sitting on the sofa!

But Paul has a restless soul. And parenthood does mean you’re going to be worrying about someone for the rest of your life, that is just a fact. You love something so much more than yourself that you are sort of blessed and cursed at the same time.

If there is a third series of Breeders, would you like to do it again?

Of course I would! Of course. I’d be livid if we didn’t. Of course I’d love to do it again. I should be so lucky. I haven’t asked them much about what might happen or where it might go. I’ll just wait for the scripts and look forward to the surprise.

As Donald O’Connor sang – make ’em laugh, make ’em laugh

 

The proliferation and growth of video streaming channels has led to an insatiable demand for new content: great news for actors, creatives and production houses but is it good news for subscribers?

New comedy has not fared as well as drama.

Let’s take the announcement that How I Met Your Father, a spinoff to long-running CBS comedy How I Met Your Mother, is finally set to make it to air. Back in 2014, HIMYM creators Craig Thomas & Carter Bays and Emily Spivey wrote a pilot for CBS that wasn’t picked up.

In 2016, Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger created a new take, but again, after the pair were appointed co-showrunners of This Is Us for NBC they were unavailable.  So Studio 20th Television tried again in the 2017-18 with writer Alison Bennett (You’re the Worst) but still it did not get the green light.

Now, in 2021, Hulu has given How I Met Your Father a straight to series, 10-episode order with Aptaker and Berger back as creators, writers and exec producers. It will no doubt be an excellent series but having taken 7 years to break ground would it have done so were it not for the almost insatiable demand of streaming channels.

In their formative years, Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services spent almost all their content budget acquiring older TV shows and movies, which had already been released on television or in the cinema. It is believed that Netflix spent $100m on the licence to run Friends now being retrieved by HBO. But that format changed around 2013 when Netflix launched the EMMY nominated House of Cards, its first original series starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as Frank and Claire Underwood

By demonstrating it could create quality content, that its millions of subscribers would watch, Netflix change the game. Over the next two years, it would premiere some of the most popular TV shows of the decade, including Hemlock Grove, Orange is the New Black and Marco Polo

This move forced Amazon, which launched in 2006, to follow suit in 2015, with the launch of Bosch, The Man in the High Castle and Sneaky Pete among others.

Now the world’s airwaves are brimming with additional channels such as WarnerMedia, HBO, NBC, CBS, Disney+, Hulu, Peacock and Apple which have all launched streaming services to compete with Netflix. They are producing some great programming but it begs the question: can they all survive? Will they all survive? Afterall even with pandemic lockdowns there are only so many hours in a day that viewers can spend on the couch.

Time was when sitcoms ran for many episodes: Frasier 264, Everybody Loves Raymond 210, Friends 236. UK produced sitcoms in the main ran over a longer period but did not have the same prolific episode output: Only Fools and Horses 80, My Family 120, Not Going Out 74 (still in production), Two Pints of lager 80 and the longest runner of them all Last of the Summer Wine 295.

When it comes to current sitcoms output neither Netflix nor Amazon have a great record of longevity with sitcoms/dramedies. Few make it past a second season with only Amazon Prime’s ‘Just Add Magic’ and ‘Annedroids’ making it past the half century. ‘Grace and Frankie’ notched up 78 episodes before getting axed.

You will no doubt have your own favourite sitcom/dramedy among the output from the major players over the past few years but, as covered in the article ‘Are Laugh-out Loud Comedies Dead,’ much of the output is satisfyingly amusing rather than a generator of audible laughs.

It’s vital that in pursuit of quantity the channels do not sacrifice quality with their production of original comedy. It’s vital that in these dark times; laughter still rings out.

If ‘How I Met Your Father’ is as good as its parent, HIMYM, then all should be well.

Which is your favourite US sitcom of the last 70 years?

Could choosing be more difficult?, as Chandler Bing might say

Your favourite US comedy series will largely depend on your age or what time you emerge from the duvet in the morning to watch C4 output between 6am and 10.

 

 

Boomers might  have fond memories of I Love Lucy starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz  Desi Arnaz from the 1950s: moving on to Jed Clampett and the oil rich Beverly Hillbillies before having a drink at Cheers: being psychoanalysed by Frasier or maybe having a science lesson with The Big Bang Theory.

I’d never heard of Schrodinger’s Cat until Sheldon told Leonard to think about it when he dated Penny for the first time. Since then it’s cropped up on several quiz programmes. So you can laugh and learn at the same time. Wish my teachers had known that.

From  the 50s to the present day there have been some great US sitcoms and some real raspberries mashers. But that’s all a matter of opinion. Which is why whenever polls are held by magazines or TV channels, the usual suspects appear time and time again but the top ten, and in particular the top three in two of the polls are literally polls apart, astonishingly. Business Insider poll puts Seinfeld at No1 whereas IMDB puts Seinfeld at 10. So you pays your money and you takes your choice. Frankly I’m astounded by some of the omissions I’m sure there are lots more that you could add to the list.Send your comments to editor@avingagiraffe.com

 

Interview with Helena Bonham Carter for Quentin Blake’s Clown

Why did you want to 

 

get involved with this project?

It was a no-brainer. I love clowns anyway and Quentin’s a classic, he’s been illustrating the whole of my life. I was familiar with Clown (the book), it’s such an enchanting piece but I hadn’t read it for years, so it was nice to see him come to life. After all, that’s what children do – they look at pictures and animate them. We’ve forgotten how to do that because we’re adults, so the animators do it for us.

What did you make of the team behind Clown?

Walter, Massimo, they’re just a bunch of eccentrics – clowns themselves, in a way, but immensely organised. I loved the idea they’d gathered so many different people from so many different parts of the world in Covid times. All these animators will never meet, but they’ve all come together to make this piece of magic. I’m sure they’re barking mad as well, animators usually are. The first time I met Walter and Massimo to talk about the show, I found all our frames of reference were similar: Les Enfants du Paradis, Charlie Chaplin, Judy Garland… It was the pathos of the clown, rather than the sadistic big make-up, the gentleness of someone who’s been thrown away and is painting over the sadness on the face. Quentin’s story has been so honoured and done with such love and reverence.

Clown by Quentin Blake available from Waterstones
Buy now from Waterstones. £7.99 Click on image

From The Gruffalo to Corpse Bride, you’ve done a fair bit of voice work. What challenges did narrating Quentin Blake’s Clown present?

It was just a lovely, warm day out. They seemed very pleased with what came out of my mouth, even on the first take, and I’ve never had that in my life in animation! It’s a very gentle leading through the story. There’s a wonderful balletic score too. It’s classic in the sense that it’s not particularly of now, it could have come from any time, a bit like The Snowman. It’s about rejection and being thrown out, which we’ve all experienced in life at one time or other, and then being found again, which is what we all hope for.

Those themes of hope, compassion and kindness feel very timely.

Definitely. Clown is a homeless character, really, and it’ll shine a light on an appalling thing, that people who are genuinely without homes and love must deal with every day, on a day of particular togetherness and isolation.

Did you have a favourite toy when you were growing up?

I had a Snoopy but that was late in my childhood, early teens. I was always a late developer – I think I’ve been doing my childhood while I’m an adult. I had a pig as an adult as well which I slept with a lot. And a Paddington. I had several in my affections.

When did you first encounter Quentin Blake’s art?

He’s always been around – I think it was mostly his work illustrating Roald Dahl’s stories. We got to know Liccy Dahl [a producer and Roald’s wife] when Tim [Burton] did Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but we knew Quentin’s stuff long before that.

Why has Quentin’s art endured?

He’s so not generic and utterly himself. His people are so economical but so expressive. Those characters are always fun and you can recognise them, although they’re not photographically accurate. The essence of people you know are there and he has a lot of humanity. He loves his characters: even if they’re flawed, they’re not necessarily the prettiest. It must be extraordinary to be in his head – it looks so free but it’s probably taken him so long to do. 

Are you much of an artist?

I’m very deficient in talent, but I do like making things: drawing and crafting, rubber stamps, that kind of thing. I’m making a scrapbook at the moment, where you have to be prepared to make an absolute mess and then leave it then come back. I’ve got a huge collection of stuff in bottles and boxes that have never been used, and loads of ideas in my head.

Could you have been a clown in another life?

I did clowning lessons, not terribly successfully, with somebody called Philippe Gaulier but I was too shy. Clowns can be very cruel, although he was a hilarious man with a real sense of pathos. I do feel I have a clown, but it comes out in different ways. I’ve dressed in a top hat many times, I spent most of my twenties in oversized trousers and I have many lace-ups that are too big for me. Doing the photoshoot for Clown was great fun, putting lots of music on, hair and make-up. I prefer dressing up anyway, so many clowns came out in that one.

What are your plans for Christmas this year?

We don’t know how many people we’ll be able to see obviously, but decorating’s okay, isn’t it? We haven’t been told to isolate our Xmas baubles! I might put little masks on all my stuffed toys…

Are laugh out loud sitcoms extinct?

Picture the scene: a stand-up comedian playing to a sell-out arena audience. Goes through a well-crafted, finely tuned set while the attentive audience sit and smile. Once or twice the sound of a chuckle can be heard emanating from the darkened auditorium. The set ends with the comedian exiting stage left, leaving the audience sighing contentedly, having been amused. We wouldn’t go to see a live set and not expect to laugh out loud. Nor should we.

A laugh out loud scene from The Vicar of Dibley

But, when it comes to sitcoms, it now seems that is what we viewers are expected to endure with a whole crop of current output. Time was when sitcoms had frequent laugh out loud moments. Who can forget Del Boy at the bar or with the chandelier, the Vicar of Dibley falling in the puddle, “Don’t tell him Pike”. There’s plenty more sitcoms that made us convulse with laughter. In these covid times, with so many people living isolated lives, it is more important than ever that we laugh: not just smile but laugh out loud. It is after all a proven scientific fact that laughter relieves stress and improves health. So it’s important that we laugh aloud again, not just sit and smile, content that we have been amused for half an hour or so.

“Laughter relieves stress
and improves health.”

At the end of the day words, well delivered, can make us laugh aloud but action makes us laugh louder and longer. The films of Laurel and Hardy are as funny today as they were 90 years ago. Even today in sitcoms it is the slapstick moments that makes us laugh most.

“Of course sitcoms must evolve but must make us laugh”

Of course situation comedy, like everything else, evolves and develops but the laugh out loud sitcom appears to be extinct or at best on the endangered list. It has evolved into the Comedy-Drama. Many are excellent but most rarely generate more than a smile. Articles on British and American comedygentle humour of comedy drama style show

Take Space Force (Netflix), Avenue 5 (Sky) or even the multi-award winning Fleabag. They are well written, well acted and well produced and yes they are funny, in parts, but not laugh out loud funny. Maybe the problem is that most are no longer ‘filmed in front of a live studio audience’. Perhaps therein lies the rub. Do we need the stimulus of live collective laughter in order to laugh audibly. Having said that, no laughter is better than blatantly dubbed laughter. Baked beans are okay in a can, but not laughter.

“Swearing is no substitute
for good writing.”

Another issue is that several of the current crop of comedies rely on using the F word and the C word excessively rather than well-crafted dialogue. 
Used for emphasis such words can have great comedic effect but, just as in everyday speech, they lose all power and point if used in every sentence or every other line of dialogue. Scientists seem to agree that swearing is a sign of intelligence and a wider vocabulary however when if comes to scripts, it’s overuse could be a symptom of indolent writing.  

Profanities were not needed to make Keeping Up Appearances, One Foot in The Grave or Gavin and Stacey outstanding sitcoms. Nor were they necessary in other acclaimed sitcoms such as The Royale Family, Kumars at No42, Ab Fab, IT Crowd, The Vicar of Dibley and so many more. So is there really any need for their overuse in Fleabag, After Life and Catastrophe for example? All of which would still be excellent with fewer expletives and explicit sexual references.

As Bob Dylan wrote, ‘the times they are a-changin’. However not all change is necessarily for the better. Articles on British and American comedy

Interview with
Greg Davies and
Alex Horne

Where did the idea for Taskmaster come from?

Alex: Eleven years ago, my wife and I had had a baby, so I didn’t go to Edinburgh Fringe for the first time in years.

Tim Key won the comedy award and I was sat at home with the baby feeling very jealous, genuinely. So, I set up a show for the following year and I invited 20 comics. I sent them all emails secretly, didn’t tell them who each other was, and said, ‘I’m starting a new competition which you can enter, I’m going to set you a different task every month’.

Mike Wozniak won it and Tim didn’t, so I was happy. And none of the comedians was Greg Davies.

Greg: I’d love to tell you it wasn’t noted at the time, but it was noted at the time. I was in a sketch group, We are Klang, and one of the members had been invited by Alex, so I knew about it.

Alex: That must have looked like a quite cliquey sort of thing.

Greg: Yeah, it felt like there was a real Edinburgh clique going on and I was in the early stages of my career, excluded by someone I would have thought was a monster.

Alex: I think I would have been scared of you. I didn’t ask any of the bigger boys.

Greg: I wasn’t even that fat back then!

Alex: You were quite lanky weren’t you, but I just meant, we didn’t really know each other, is probably the truth.

Greg: We didn’t know each other at all but it didn’t stop me from feeling excluded. It was obviously a successful show…

Alex: It was on at midnight and only 150 people watched it but it got more word of mouth than it probably merited. It was one of those quirky Edinburgh things. So we did it again the following year, then Avalon said, ‘There’s something in this’, and we started pitching it as a TV show with Greg hosting.

Why Greg?

Alex: Well, I would challenge you to name anyone else who could do that job. He had all the elements that role needed, as well as being very funny and good off the cuff. I’d say his physical attributes lend itself to the role, but also the headmasterly qualities.

Greg: I’ve basically spent the majority of my adult life pretending to have authority. I certainly was like that in the sketch group I was in and on stage I tend to turn the volume up on everything I do. So, some bombastic tall shouty man setting tasks seemed like a very natural fit.

Alex: There’s a moment in every show where Greg does have to say, ‘That’s it, we’re moving on now’. And most comics… even Johnny Vegas in this series listened to Greg and moved on, which I’ve seen him not do on many other shows.

Greg: Once I put the Taskmaster suit on, I become someone else.

Alex: Yeah, even our relationship: it’s odd but we do instantly have a different relationship.

Greg: It is odd because it’s all very cordial off set, but as soon as I step onto set, there’s just a natural irritation I feel towards you.

How would you describe your relationship on-screen?

Greg: Someone asked Phil Wang what surprised him about doing Taskmaster, and he said ‘I’m surprised that Greg really is bullying Alex’.

Alex: I’ve never felt it like that actually. I’ve always felt more scrutinised. It’s definitely not bullying, because you can see how much I enjoy it. The moment we’re off set, there’s a real brotherly love there.

Greg: Uncle and nephew.

How much of the studio show is scripted and how much is totally improvised?

Greg: We do sit down and discuss what we’re going to do, but I think the vast majority of that goes out the window in the studio. I’d feel pretty confident in saying there’s very little faux-spontaneity. If a comment seems off the cuff, or a judgement seems to be made in the moment, then it was.

Alex: The conceit is that Greg’s seeing everything for the first time on the night and it’s not far from that.

Greg: There are some tasks that will require some thought and my lumbering brain sometimes needs to let it marinate overnight but you’re largely seeing us flying by the seat of our pants.

Alex: Greg never knows anything I’m going to say before the show, so when he’s reacting to me it’s completely off the cuff and we obviously never know what the contestants are going to say at any point.

Greg: It’s one of the exciting things about it. I might have some discussion points in my head beforehand, because I know there’s a certain task coming up, but more often than not they won’t even get used. The group gels as the series moves on and they have such a distinct language and way of responding and the characters emerge so beautifully that very quickly it feels like a gang.

How do you get such good names to take part?

Alex: Word of mouth has really helped us. I do quite often thank Frank Skinner because he agreed to do the very first series and that was a real stamp of approval. He had a nice time on it, which really helps, so that set the ball rolling. And the fact that Jo Brand did it has helped, of course.

Greg: The word’s just out now that people aren’t being brought onto the show to be humiliated. Well, they are, but it’s very much with their consent and they know the boundaries of that humiliation. There’s a very caring approach to the people that are on the show. They’re not fodder.

Alex: I think Andy Devonshire the director deserves credit too. He really makes people look the best they can in terms of the creative tasks where people make little movies or whatever. Sometimes they’re a work of art.

You’ve also featured comedians who are on the cusp of a huge career, such as Romesh Ranganathan and James Acaster. It’s a step up for them, doing Taskmaster, isn’t it?

Greg: Because it’s a ten-week series, by the last episode you really feel you know these people inside out. A lot of stand-up comedy fans watch it then follow them. It’s been really nice to introduce some people.

Alex: I wouldn’t hesitate to take full credit for Romesh’s career. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that man owes us everything. To the extent that I think a reasonable man would think about financial remuneration for it. Several former Taskmaster contestants, such as Mark Watson, talk about Taskmaster in their stand-up afterwards. It’s quite a big part of their lives.

Alex: Yeah. I think instead of a brief trip to Manchester to record one show, they spend ages with us, and they might be having a baby or getting married or getting unmarried at the time. They do their tasks over several different filming days between November and March and then they come to the studio for five full days.

They spend ages in the make-up room spilling, then they talk about their lives during the tasks because they bring in personal items or whatever. So, you always remember what you were doing the year you did Taskmaster.

Greg: The tasks don’t give people anywhere to hide. Stand-ups usually have absolute autonomy on what they want to put out and the persona they want to be. It’s very controlled. So, Taskmaster becomes memorable for them because they’re not performing according to the rules that they’ve drawn out for themselves, and they’re showing other aspects of their character. That can work negatively and positively for them of course, but I think a lot of people find it memorable because they’re performing and not in a way that they traditionally would.

The best example of that has got to be David Baddiel, who basically had a very slow breakdown over 10 weeks, didn’t he?

Alex: That was absolutely fascinating.

Greg: I mean, David Baddiel, that series, said to me on three separate occasions offcamera, ‘I’m really intelligent, you know’. He started listing his books and even his academic qualifications at one point. I think he is the most stupid ‘clever’ person we’ve had. But that’s wonderful and I think that anyone that watched David making those mistakes would just love seeing someone who’s normally so cerebral be such a klutz. I think people really warm to another side of the man.

Talking of crossovers with their personal lives: does Josh Widdicombe still have your name tattooed on his foot?

Greg: I think he’s got that for life. I’ll never quite get over that.

Alex: It was a good choice of tattoo, very funny. Not ‘Taskmaster’ or anything, just ‘Greg’.

The show has moved from Dave to Channel 4. Why the move?

Alex: It was all fairly natural. We came to the end of our contract there. UKTV were very generous. We’re so grateful they commissioned us not just once, but then for nine more series.

It wasn’t like we broke off and said, ‘We’re heading somewhere else’. Even the advert breaks help because that’s what everyone’s used to. Channel 4’s a comedy channel, or at least historically it is, so the chance of more people watching it felt like a natural time to try to grow.

Will fans notice any changes?

Alex: No. We haven’t been pushed into booking any different names, we haven’t changed any element of the show except some COVID stuff, like having to put the chairs two metres apart. There’s a slight sadness to ending any relationship, but it’s all very amicable and when the BAFTAs happened, we were on a Zoom call with them and they were getting drunk celebrating with us, which all felt lovely.

Congratulations on the BAFTA. Is it all the sweeter for waiting ten series to get one?

Alex: I think it’s nice to be nominated a couple of times before winning it, because you don’t take it for granted. And you don’t expect it either.

Greg: I don’t think any of the team expected it. It was a genuine surprise, but it’s nice to have it recognised and especially for my little bearded friend there who devised the whole thing and so consistently sits in his jacuzzi and comes up with amazing tasks.

How was it to be given your award over Zoom by Kermit and Miss Piggy?

Alex: I like that it was them. It could have been anyone, it could have been a Spice Girl or a Bond actor, but everyone knows the Muppets.

Greg: It’s funny, even getting such a wonderful accolade as a BAFTA, there was part of my brain going, ‘Miss Piggy’s voice is different’.

Alex: I was slightly troubled by that. I liked the Zoom element because we were all on a Zoom call and my kids were watching and lots of the team who would never normally be involved in the ceremony, because the ceremony is normally quite exclusive and only a few of you can go. They do all the work and then the execs and us go and pick up the award which never feels quite right.

Greg: I have to say I was Zooming with Alex and his family, and I’m not convinced his kids are into the show.

Alex: No, they’re pretty big fans of Romesh [who was also nominated for The Ranganation] so they were slightly disappointed.

Greg: We had a lot of drinks. It was a really exciting internet party. Alex even got in his jacuzzi during it.

You’re signed for six series with Channel 4 including this one. Given how popular the show is with comedians, are you able to pretty much pick and choose names at this stage?

Greg: More or less, yeah. There’s still people we’re desperate to get, and there are also people that are asking to do it, but they can’t make the dates work. It’s fiddly.

But we’re also trying to keep the line-ups interesting. No-one’s ever predicted what the line-up’s going to be and that’s part of the joy of it. There’s lots of voices in the room about selecting the right make-up of people but I think most people who we’ve approached say ‘yes’ to an extent. It’s not very often that people give us an absolute ‘no’, anyway.

Alex: The likes of Jo Brand really opened a few doors and the cast of series 11 is as good as any we’ve had in terms of not just the big names, but interesting people that you wouldn’t normally see on this sort of show.

Is there a tiny tease you can give us for the next few series, any hints you can drop?

Alex: There’s someone in the next series that I get asked about the most, I suppose.

Interesting. Johnny Vegas must have been up there for a while though, right?

Alex: Yeah, although I was nervous, in terms of him causing damage to himself or someone else on tasks days, and on the studio days I didn’t quite know what sort of Johnny we’d get. Luckily, we got the tender Johnny, the funny Johnny and the artistic Johnny a few times. He’s a proper poet. He puts himself out there. His heart is on his sleeve throughout and joyously so.

What was Daisy May Cooper like?

Greg: I’ll tell you now, Daisy May Cooper, as far as I can work out, for the vast majority of the prize tasks she just fell into her kitchen and grabbed the first thing she could. So, I was absolutely fuming with her before we started the record. I like that. It gives me something to sharpen my teeth on.

Alex: We’ve had 45 people on before, and we haven’t had anyone like Daisy May Cooper. My wife is pleased with her, more than anyone we’ve ever had. She’s very naturally funny. We always talk in comedy about people who’ve got funny bones and people who haven’t, and Daisy is just a funny, funny person.

Greg: And she doesn’t edit. I think her responses are very real and in the moment.

Alex: She made a film for us which she believed was a work of art, and as soon as we showed it, it was clear to everyone in the room it was dreadful. But she insisted it was and refused to speak for the rest of the show at one point.

Greg: She’s not lacking in self-belief.

Alex: She’s also the most pregnant person we’ve ever had on the show.

What about Katherine Parkinson?

Greg: She’s 90% strait-laced and then another side comes out when you push her, which wouldn’t come out on most shows.

Alex: She’s very poised, she’s a very elegant woman, but there again – a swan is an elegant bird until you put it in roller skates… My point is, it doesn’t matter how poised someone is in their day to day life, the tasks will find them out. And they did with Katherine and she responded mightily impressively.

What about Mawaan?

Alex: There’s no doubt he will be a star. He is one of those triple threats, because he can do the singing, dancing, comedy thing, but he can also paint, he’s got amazing dress sense, he’s very confident and very funny.

He’s quite quiet and quite often says the thing that shines through. He was a constant joy. With the younger people you don’t want them to be dwarfed by anyone and he wasn’t, he stood up for himself.

Greg: He was quite frustrated at being referred as ‘the young man’ throughout, by us suggesting he’s got boyish charm. At one point he shouted, ‘I’m 29!’

And Richard Herring?

Greg: I just really like him. He’s quite a sensible man who does stupid things, so it’s a perfect show for him. He’s one of the mega-fans we’ve had on, who knows the show inside out. I think Richard is the only person I’ve ever met who, during the space of one task, can appear both 70 and 12 years of age at once.

Alex: That’s true. I guess that’s the same as all men. Men are always little boys and grumpy old men at the same time, but he is a particular example of that.

Greg: He said to me at one point, ‘It’s strange, Greg, you say such awful things to me and yet I’m not offended’.

Contestants often say they love doing Taskmaster because it’s like being back at school.

Alex: Yeah, and they don’t have to clear up either. They get permission to do silly stuff, they don’t have to pay and then they just walk away and get given a sandwich.

There’s a Taskmaster board game which is excellent, but it does involve making a lot of mess.

Alex: I know, I’m so sorry. i played that once with my kids, we have a massive row and we put it away!

The show’s very popular with families, though. There’s a PG version of Taskmaster on Dave so kids can watch.

Alex: Yeah, they were showing that at 7 o’clock every day during lockdown which is great and we’re hoping Channel 4 are going to do the same. It’s one of the few shows you can sit down as a family and watch, except for the swearing.

Greg: I’m amazed that I haven’t had the expense of editing those taken out of my wages, because largely it’s me being incapable of controlling my potty mouth.

And the home-tasking that you did on Twitter during lockdown was also a success all over the world.

Alex: We were amazed by the amount of different countries that responded to the tasks. I liked that there were lots of families, but there were also lots of people who were by themselves, which I almost found more touching. There was some bloke in his flat desperately trying to compete against a family of six…It formed real communities which was very sweet.

Alex, are you looking forward to being called Little Alex Horne by a whole new audience?

Alex: It’s funny, it’s not the words as such, it’s the way he says it that annoys me. Because that’s what people copy, they copy the high-pitched shouting. People are so disappointed when they meet me. They go, ‘You’re not very little’, and they’re cross with me.

Remind people how tall you actually are?

Alex: Way over average height.

Greg: He’s not. It’s a lie.

Finally, who’s on the hit list for more Taskmaster?

Greg: Well, go on, say it.

Alex: Jack Dee.

Greg: He always says Jack Dee, I think he’s absolutely obsessed with the man.

Alex: Greg and I had a chat yesterday and we threw some names back and forth. People like Lorraine Kelly.

Greg: Lorraine Kelly is my version of Alex’s total obsession with Jack Dee. I have for many years thought I would love to see Lorraine Kelly responding to a task. I sense an inner steeliness and it excites me.

Alex: We had a very funny session, me saying names to Greg and him saying instantly yes or no. It’s amazing that people like Debbie McGee and Krishnan Guru Murphy got through.

Taskmaster, starts 9pm Thursday 15th October on Channel 4. Catch series 1-9 on All 4

Source: Channel 4

.

Doc Martin to leave Portwenn after 17 years – yes 17 years!

Doc Martin and his family in PortwennThe production team behind the hugely successful ITV drama Doc Martin have confirmed the next series, which begins filming in 2021, will be the final instalment in the life of the grumpy Cornish GP.

In spite of his cantankerous bed side manner, Doc Martin has won legions of fans in the UK and around the world for his incisive diagnoses and medical excellence as he treats patients in the sleepy Cornish fishing village of Portwenn where he spent holidays as a child. His on-off love affair and eventual marriage to Louisa, played by long standing co-star Caroline Catz, created rare tender moments between the two characters as Martin often found it difficult to reveal his true feelings for her.

Series 10 will begin filming in the spring of 2021 with the drama then airing on ITV later that year. Articles on British and American comedy

Explaining their decision Martin Clunes and producer Philippa Braithwaite on behalf of production company, Buffalo Pictures, would like fans to embrace the final series and view it as a celebration of the character who has struck a chord with millions of viewers.

Commented Martin Clunes and Philippa Braithwaite:

“We have loved making nine series of Doc Martin. When we launched the series in 2004 we could never have imagined how much our loyal viewers would take to the grumpy Doc like they have. The series has avid fans both in the UK and throughout the world and we are thrilled that Doc Martin has topped the ratings every time. Articles on British and American comedy

Unbelievable Intelligence

Back when dinosaurs wore short trousers I entered a BBC comedy writing competition and won a place on a part time comedy writing course in Lancaster Gate, London run by a well-known (at the time) script writer, Brad Ashton. It was a purely informative course, no exams or qualifications (I would have failed anyway), just practical advice on constructing gags and comedic situations. Brad was writing for Tommy Cooper, Benny Hill among many others including Groucho Marx so he knew what he was talking about.

The course was primarily about gag construction. I may not have taken the right message from the sessions but I decided that the foundation of great comedy is truth. I’m not talking about comedy based on facts nor the concept of the sitcom but the characters and situation have to be real. The viewer has to believe in both before the triple pillars of conflict, desperation and unpredictability, upon which a sitcom is constructed can have meaning. It matters not that the sitcom is set in Manchester, Manhattan or Mars, what matters is that the characters are believable and consistent.

“Fantasy aside, characters must be believable and consistent”

Too many of the current crop of sitcoms fail this simple test. ‘Intelligence,’ set in GCHQ, the UK intelligence gathering centre based in Cheltenham, is a prime example. Granted there are one or two laugh out loud moments in each episode but the characters are totally implausible. David Schwimmer and Nick Mohammed IntelligenceThe inept junior IT specialist, Joseph, played by Nick Mohammed, who also created and wrote the scripts, simply wouldn’t be in his job. If the fact that he is totally incompetent is supposed to be the joke then for me that’s not enough.  In episode two he wipes all the personnel files off the computerised systems, not by accident but because he can’t even understand the screen prompts. Then we have the stereotypical caricature of a hapless aging spinster Mary (Jane Stanness), the disinterested non-communicative hacker Tuva (Gana Bayarsaikhan) and Jerry played by Ross Geller, because that’s who David Schwimmer is (OJ’s lawyer aside), who has been transferred from the National Security Agency in the States because he is also incompetent. Cast of Intelligence David Schwimmer and Nick MohammedYet despite the entire resources of GCHQ these four inadequates form the crack team who in episode three spend the whole night uncovering an anonymous hacker who has brought the NHS to its knees. They do this, not by use of IT or forensic analysis but by Jerry’s gut instinct. The one saving grace is the department head, Christine (Sylvestra Le Touzel) but why she, or any government agency, would employ these dummies is anyone’s guess: she even indulges a bungling PA who doesn’t know what her own job title means. Yet Sky have commissioned a second series.

 

If the viewer has to continually question why these people are in their positions then the whole basis of the series slides into a quagmire of incredulity and the comedy, apart from the slapstick, fails. I’m not talking about fantasy comedies such as Red Dwarf, 3rd Rock or Krod Mandoon. We know and accept that these are unreal characters but as long as they are true to their character then we accept them: part of the reason Red Dwarf has spanned 26 years.

Tastes change of course, even in comedy but those sitcoms that have stood the test of time have believable characters with whom viewers can identify. I find it impossible to choose just one as my all time favourite  British sitcom but if pushed I would plump for Only Fools and Horses or Yes Minister/Prime Minister or Red Dwarf or The Inbetweeners or Motherland or maybe……….

Sheldon’s past doesn’t match the present

Nickelodeon has announced it’s adding TV’s No. 1 comedy series, “Young Sheldon,” to its Nick at Nite programming lineup this autumn. Joining popular hit family comedies, including the Emmy®-winning series “Friends,” as well as “George Lopez” and “Mom.” “Young Sheldon” will premiere on Nickelodeon’s night-time programming block in November, starting with the first three seasons (65 episodes), with latter seasons coming to Nick at Nite beginning fall 2021. Year to date, Nick at Nite ranks as cable’s top network with Women 18-49 and is also currently delivering its highest share of Adults 18-49 since 2016. Comedy news and reviews

In the single camera, half-hour comedy “Young Sheldon,” viewers get the chance to meet the iconic, eccentric and extraordinary Sheldon Cooper in childhood in East Texas, as the young once-in-a-generation mind (series star Iain Armitage) embarks on his innocent, awkward and hopeful journey toward the man he will become in “The Big Bang Theory.” 

However in TBBT the idiosyncratic adult Sheldon is annoying yet likable but those same idiosyncrasies in a 9 year old amount to obnoxious rudeness.  However  my dissatisfaction is really that having watched the whole TBBT series several times I find too many inconsistencies between how the adult Sheldon describes his childhood and the way it is depicted in Young Sheldon.

In BBT Sheldon describes the time his dad was skeet shooting Franklin Mint plates from the roof of his house; how the liquor store owner cried when Sheldon’s drunkard father died; how dad kept his whisky in a pepsi can to hide it from Mom; how he picked a fight with a cactus; how he taught Sheldon to shoot so close to a raccoon that it craps itself. The picture created is that his dad was an unemployed Texan hillbilly with a drink problem living someplace where shooting guns around the locale went unnoticed.

This is far from the suburban ideal depicted in the younger version which in my opinion could have stood up as a stand alone family comedy without the need to give the older Sheldon an inconsistent back-story.