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Kevin Cecil on pitching a show about walking

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David Thair | 16:30 UK time, Tuesday, 27 July 2010

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Kevin Cecil, co-creator of The Great Outdoors, writes...

"So there are these characters and they are all in a walking club."

The award-winning TV producer looked at us blankly.

"People don't really do that do they?"

"Well yes they do. The show would follow the different members and each episode is set on a
different walk and, oh yeah, it's all set outside."

"It sounds very difficult to make."

He had his legs over one arm of his chair. He didn't look like he wanted to make something very difficult.

"Well it probably would be, yes."

We abandoned the pitch and fell back into the much safer territory of discussing ideas for TV shows set behind the scenes at other TV shows.

Afterwards my writing partner Andy Riley and I were disappointed. We'd both done a lot of walking and felt there was something funny in the zealousness of the hobbyists we'd met. We wanted to do something set outside London which was pro walking while using the opportunity to throw a bunch of strong personalities together in a situation that was neither domestic nor workplace. And we had two jokes that we could use.

But we knew all the weird looks we'd been getting when we'd mentioned it were justified. We wanted to do a show with no regular sets and would need a cast who could climb up and down hills all day whilst being funny and developing their characters. Yet whenever we tried to forget it we couldn't. It just seemed different.

We wanted to know if it could work.  Why not test it? We would write the first script on spec and see. We had to have faith in our own idea. Also nobody was offering us paid work just then.

A month later and we had forty pages in courier 12 point to show around. It wasn't perfect but the basics seemed to be in there. We now had at least seven jokes. Producer Alex Walsh-Taylor at the BBC not only said nice things about it but persuaded the corporation to give us the money to do further work on it. He said it would be tricky to make but not impossible. We worked with Alex and exec producer Paul Schlesinger until our joke count hit double figures. We wrote and walked, walked and wrote.

Mark Heap holding a Walking Club signShortly afterwards (shortly afterwards in TV terms is about a year in the real world) Ruth Jones and Tidy Productions came on board. Mark Heap said he wanted to do it. We jumped up and down. We wrote two more episodes. We got Katherine Parkinson, Steve Edge.  And very shortly after that we found ourselves in a Buckinghamshire field with them plus Stephen Wight, Gwyneth Keyworth and Joe Tracini. A ridiculously good cast. We had our own walking club. We had a director, Catherine Morshead who'd just done Doctor Who. She'd swapped the Tardis for a field with some cow pats in it. But still the question remained. Would it work?

There's a natural nervousness that comes over a production early on. Some of our cast had done some rambling, some of them very little. Were we making a show about a realistic world? Would anyone get this? Then on the second morning a group of four real walkers came over a stile and started making towards our group. They were led by a guy with a map around his neck exactly like the one Bob, our walk leader, wears. They seemed a bit surprised to find some famous actors pretending to be doing their pastime . An assistant director approached them. "Do you mind going round the side," she said politely. "It's just we're filming."

"Public right of way," the leader replied without a beat. "It's a public right of way." And he took the group right through our shot, looking back at us all and mouthing "public right of way" every few seconds while giving self justifying nods to his followers. I could have kissed him. Because the real ramblers were just like what our ramblers were like. Pedantic, single minded, rather heroic. We all relaxed a bit after that. We thought we might just have something.

The Great Outdoors starts Wednesday 28th July at 9pm on BBC Four. Read more from Kevin on the BBC TV Blog as he answers the question: can rambling ever be cool?


  • Comment number 1.

    The great OutDoors the best comedy on TV all summer .. please can we have more.... the characters are all great.. And Ruth Jones as always was amazing... more please

  • Comment number 2.

    I have just watched the 3 episodes again, it is a brilliant concept!
    The group relationships are so fine, the casting excellent. I do hope you will continue to explore this idea. If you want to see a mass ramble, why not try the Five Valley's Walk on 26th September!
    Literally hundreds, maybe thousands of walkers of all ages take part each year in support of the Meningitis Trust. This annual event around the Stroud valleys takes some beating. www.meningitis-trust.org/fivevalleyswalk
    Thanks again for your wonderful programme. A possible replacement for the Last of the Summer Wine? I hope so!

  • Comment number 3.

    Great show, underplayed but huge characters, the kind of comedy that just makes you want to see more! Please make another series soon. :-)

  • Comment number 4.

    I agree with the general sentiments: excellent cast, a wonderfully dry wit and delightfully off-beat characters.
    Mark Heap of course is a genius.
    But then so is anyone who starred in Green Wing.
    Why only three episodes? Why so timid?

  • Comment number 5.

    I absolutely loved the show and thought the scripts were excellently written and the comic timing of Mark heap and Ruth Jones was second to none!! I really hope there's another series as their aren't many good comedys around anymore, also the little lad at the beginning of episode three was excellent, I hope they ask for him back if they get recomissioned as I feel he would work well with the group as they are like a little family !! Please do another series as all good things end too soon and we end up watching repeats all the time because they don't put money into new ideas !!

  • Comment number 6.

    Somebody please say there's going to be more!!!!!

  • Comment number 7.

    We too are desperate for more - one of the very few shows we made a point of sitting down to watch together. There is at least one hilarious moment every episode which made me hurt laughing and the characters are fab. Please bring it back soon!!!

  • Comment number 8.

    Just found this on YouTube. Mark Heap's and Ruth Jones' characters are great together (and so are they in their own right). I'm an American and have "rambled" much in England and Wales. What a fantastic idea for a show, not in an office or in a family situation! More...please!


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