TV newcomer creates zombie drama In the Flesh

In the Flesh Luke Newberry plays a zombie teenager who tries to reintegrate into society

It's been dubbed a "kitchen sink zombie drama".

It's written by a TV newcomer and it's developed into a passion project that's attracted established talent from on and off-air.

In the Flesh debuts on BBC Three this Sunday in the wake of Being Human, which concluded last weekend after five series.

Airing in three parts, it centres on teenager Kieren Walker, who, shortly after his funeral, is brought back to life in a zombie epidemic.

But the drama is set four years later, when a rehabilitated Kieren - now labelled a sufferer of Partially Deceased Syndrome - returns home to reintegrate, albeit amid a hostile community.

The drama's concept has been running around inside the head of Dominic Mitchell since he saw a bad zombie movie in 2007.

"There was a group of survivors shooting at zombies in such a horrible way that I started feeling sorry for the zombies," he explains.

"Well, surely they don't need to be shot, they need to be treated. They've got a neurological disease and, with a neurological disease, people would try and treat it."

Foot in the door
Ricky Tomlinson In the Flesh also features Ricky Tomlinson as Kieren's neighbour

It got him thinking about what would really happen after a zombie apocalypse in Britain.

He was already a theatre playwright, having joined the Young Writers Programme at the prestigious Royal Court in London.

But Mitchell wanted to move into TV, he just lacked the opportunities to get his foot in the door.

A regular visit to the BBC Writersroom website alerted him to Northern Voices - a one-year scheme with mentoring from a tv screenwriter, in this case John Fay, who had worked on Coronation Street and Torchwood.

"He really understood the idea of the drama having a kitchen sink sci-fi feel and that sort of Ken Loach meets George Romero," says Mitchell, who grew up in a Lancashire village that inspired the setting for In the Flesh.

Romero directed the seminal zombie film Night of the Living Dead but Mitchell first got hooked on horror at the age of 11, when a friend recommended Stephen King's novel Pet Sematary.

Despite being dyslexic, he finished the book in one night and fell in love with reading.

That love spread to writing - he even created a play where the seven dwarves got depressed after Snow White left to marry Prince Charming.

Pulling power

Start Quote

Everyone thinks of local village life as quite idyllic but when I was growing up it wasn't”

End Quote Dominic Mitchell Writer, In the Flesh

But he needed mentoring to get into TV and it was after moving to Manchester that he applied for Northern Voices.

Although he got a place, he perversely felt freed by the realisation that a commission was unlikely.

"On the Northern Voices scheme they were very honest about saying it's a rarity the BBC will option any of these scripts," he recalls.

"They weren't doing that to be mean, they were just being realistic about the industry, and it helped me because I could write what I want."

But after his script passed through the in-house drama team in Manchester, the unthinkable happened and it was eventually commissioned.

Not only did Mitchell's first tv script get chosen for BBC Three, it also drew off-air talent such as Jonny Campbell, who directed the critically acclaimed drama Eric and Ernie.

Producer Ann Harrison-Baxter decided to work on In the Flesh even though she was already involved in the post-production of recent thriller The Secret of Crickley Hall.

"New writing is so vital to the lifeblood of the TV industry," she said at a recent screening.

"But we've got to be looking for unique people all the time, giving them the opportunity and supporting them, and in the longer run making some bloody good drama."

A relatively unknown cast, led by Luke Newberry, is also aided by well-known faces such as Ricky Tomlinson and Kenneth Cranham.

"We rely far too much on the same actors over and over again, it just gets boring," said Campbell at the same screening.

Great expectations

BBC Writersroom

Wolfblood
  • Accepts unsolicited original scripts for drama, comedy and children's - either for tv or radio
  • Received more than 12,000 scripts in last 18 months
  • Recent commissions include CBBC fantasy Wolfblood (above) and Radio 4 drama Pilgrim

Initial comparisons have been made to American drama The Walking Dead, but Campbell joked the latter had more money for their toilet facilities than the entire In the Flesh budget.

Filmed in the Pennines and at studios in Salford, he said the story was more reminiscent of This is England and early Ken Loach films, where an individual is at odds with his community.

As in Mitchell's youth, the parish council in the drama rules its neighbourhood with an influence that has grown since they were abandoned by the government during the zombie uprising.

"Everyone thinks of local village life as quite idyllic but when I was growing up it wasn't," says Mitchell.

"And now, because people are moving in for their second homes, I quite like that because it is breaking that community up."

In the Flesh hasn't even aired yet but there's a buzz and expectation that it will fill behind cult hit Being Human and Bafta-winning The Fades, which was cancelled last year after one series.

BBC Three controller Zai Bennett has previously said a budget cut of around 20% means the channel can only air a full drama series and one mini-series each year, whereas before they could broadcast three.

In the Flesh is partly funded by BBC America, so there is also potential for transmission in the US.

"It's very surreal," admits Mitchell. "It's not really supposed to happen, I'm just a lad from a village in the north."

In the Flesh, Sunday 17 March, 10pm, BBC Three

Tips from Dominic Mitchell

  • Write what you want to see on TV and stuff that excites you.
  • Write characters and scenes that you really see in your head, and issues you want to talk about.
  • Don't worry about the audience or second guess anyone. You're an audience member so just write for yourself.
  • Apply to everything. I used to go on the BBC Writersroom website every day. Those schemes help you hone your writing and personal voice, and make you confident in writing.

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