Big School: Writing with comedy greats

Thursday 15 August 2013, 11:41

The Dawson Bros The Dawson Bros Writers

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Collaboration was at the heart of Big School, a sitcom conceived by David Walliams (the swimmer turned actor who also plays Mr Church) but written, from the very first draft of episode one, by four people: David himself and us Dawson Bros (who can neither act nor swim).

The Dawson Bros are Andrew and Steve Dawson, the brothers, and Tim Inman their professionally adopted sibling - and we’ve been collaborating with each other now for 21 years.

Admittedly at the beginning we were just kids mucking about with Dixons' cheapest video camera making bad comedy that no one but our friends ever saw (thankfully YouTube didn’t exist) but it still technically counts as collaboration.

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Mr Church's (David Walliams) attempt to make science fun blows up in his face

The upshot is we three have a pretty developed way of working together and are fortunate to have writing partners very much on the same wavelength (or for the youngsters reading, ‘wifi network’).

It’s great! We share the same reference points, we’ve been through the same experiences together, developed the same shorthand and have heavily overlapping senses of humour.

And while working as a three has its disadvantages versus solo/duo writing (principally that we have to work enough to pay three mortgages) it also has its advantages: debates can easily be settled with a two-one majority.

So what happened to this finely honed comedy writing dynamic when we were asked to collaborate with the multi-award-winning comedian and estuary paddling Roald Dahl plagiarist David Walliams?

Well we spent an incredible six months sitting together in a small rented office making each other laugh, exactly as the three of us had done when we made our home videos two decades ago.

To our newly formed quartet David brought years of comedy experience, a world class understanding of character and killer dialogue. We brought the biscuits.

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Miss Postern (Catherine Tate) makes an impression at her first assembly

But the collaboration doesn’t end there. In later drafts Catherine Tate, a comedy writing genius in her own right, worked with us four to refine her character Miss Postern.

So it was actually a quintet. And throughout the whole process we were expertly guided by script notes from comedic oracle David Baddiel. Sextet?

And we haven’t even gone into the essential contribution of the dream cast, elite producers and talented behind the scenes crew who brought Big School into existence. About 10 nonets (thank you Wikipedia).

As you can hopefully tell by now making a sitcom is a hugely collaborative process. So if you watch Big School and don’t like it remember absolutely loads of people made it not just us, OK?

But if you watch it and love it then, you know, it was kind of basically all down to us three.


The Dawson Bros (Andrew Dawson, Steve Dawson and Tim Inman) are the co-writers of Big School.

Big School begins on Friday, 16 August at 9pm on BBC One and BBC One HD. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

More on Big School
The Independent: Remains of the school day: David Walliams and Catherine Tate in Big School

WalesOnline: It's an education teaching at the school of hard knocks for comic actor Steve Speirs

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    As someone who worked in a state secondary - I loved it!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    When i saw the cast list i thought this would be a cracker, how wrong can one be. Funny... this is not. won't be watching again, i see this being dumped very quickly, what a wast of money and time.

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    Comment number 3.

    Oh dear. That was painful to watch. Talented actors given corny and old fashioned lines. Predictable characters and a concept seemingly stolen from Please Sir. And the blog above is excruciating too (the wi fi joke .....really?)

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    This was awful. It made me cringe, it was so unfunny. Individually I usually enjoy David Walliams and Catherine Tate but I certainly will not be watching again.

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    Comment number 5.

    After recent sitcom disasters "Big School" is a welcome relief. Witty dialogue hurrah! Engaging characters, especially Glenister's. And the two kids - hope there will be more kid:teacher sketches. I was worried by the assembly set-up. Does this still happen as it did in the Sixties? Not daily anymore, I trust.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    We loved it..
    So what if it reminds people of Please Sir, there is only so much scope for school humour to be had. It still manages to pull off a lot of scenes with a good twist. Really loved the lonely child in the school dining room and the desperate teaching assistant. And, who would have thought that Mr Church would have driven a mustard coloured car?
    My only complaint would be that of Mr Barber being revealed as the graffiti artist so early on, as I felt that there was lots of potential in developing the absurd lengths that he would go to, in trying to achieve retirement on full pay through job related stress.
    As with Monty Python, The Young Ones and Absolutely Fabulous, I can honestly see this as having a cult following in the future. Whilst others sit dumbfounded, we fans will be laughing at them, for not getting it.

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    Comment number 7.

    As an ex teacher I found the observations excellent,I met and worked with these characters As someone who loves comedy I found myself grinning throughout and laughing out loud on more than one occasion. Terrific!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Sorry thought it was rubbish. No wonder lots of kids don't respect teachers now as they are nearly always portrayed as idiots. Nothing made me laugh. As for the kids behaviour - quite disgusting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Great cast
    About as funny as a public hanging .After ten minutes I was wishing there where adverts didn't last to 12 minutes watched a repeat on quest

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Please please put this on later say 3am and put a repeat of anything else on

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    Comment number 11.

    What a waste of talent and my time - I want that 30 minutes back! This cast MUST have known they had recorded a plonker !
    Truly bad writing... was the programme made with ONE camera?
    Each take was a series of Edited lines within an inch of their lives.
    Starry cast wasted!
    School report? D- Will have to do better !

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I have never provided any feedback to any programme but am shocked that the BBC would put on such rubbish! There was little humour, it was vulgar, and it set a shocking example of appalling behaviour for young people at school. I am disappointed that David Walliams would participate in this low grade production.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    when i saw the cast & clip i thought it could be funny,..and when i watched this ,it was very funny, yes its a brilliant program to watch, i shall be watching it again,

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I loved it! The only thing that could be improved is to bring back Roland, or Tucker Jenkins. So glad this is not another tedious and cynical Frankie Boyle-style comedy - I enjoyed the honest fun of the show.

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    Comment number 16.

    Such a disappointment. As a former teacher, head teacher and pupil, this comes across as very poorly researched and written. First - Big School - with under 100 pupils - I don't think so. Assembly shouting out with regard animal sex and a teacher - funny? A head teacher who smokes in her office - now illegal in public buildings - schools etc? David Walliams was brilliant in Come Fly with Me because we laughed with the characters and at what they said. Script was largely comedic because it poked gentle fun. This offering is plain rude, crude and intended to shock. And why do school comedy or drama scripts and researchers believe that 95% of children laugh at teachers when in reality - 95% of children laugh with teachers and share comedy. That would still work as a programme. (Sex with sheep discussion in assembly belittling a teacher is not funny - honestly). Very disappointing - stop trying to shock and share real humour - it's in every local school.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    loved it...marry me

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    Comment number 18.

    Why do TV writers insist on portraying teachers as pathetic, desperate, child-fearing fools, and students as N-Dubz loving, slang-speaking, education-hating cretins? The first episode of BBC1’s new comedy ‘Big School’ had me weeping into my Favourite Teacher mug as I endured the oldest entries in the Big Book of Teaching Jokes, namely that teachers have no control over children; that British schools are made up of classes of half a dozen students (oh for this to be the case!) all called Champagne & Brooklyn; and that PE teachers are imbeciles who can’t tell their arse from their tennis elbow.
    Can’t the illustrious writers of the BBC comedy department come up with anything better than these hackneyed platitudes? We all love to reminisce about the good old days when class sizes were smaller, behaviour management was an unknown necessity and teachers lived in tweeds, but that really hasn’t been the case for a good while now and the TV world needs to move on.
    Personally I would much rather see writers draw comedy from the real experiences of schools today, such comedic goldmines as the frantic, nausea-inducing façade that is an Ofsted inspection, or the hilarity of the slightly more mature staff members trying to master electronic progress-tracking systems and the wonder that is email. The only programme in recent production that has given any insight into what school life is really like is Channel 4’s fantastic ‘Educating Essex’, which only managed this feat by recording hours and hours of real footage – in a real school. In this we saw the truth: teachers who are highly educated and highly skilled, who will do anything – and I mean anything – to help kids get the grades they deserve. We were introduced to hard-working students who aspire to be the best they can be. We were shown that students who disrupt learning are in fact in a very small minority, and that the majority are actually delightful, funny, wildly entertaining human beings who make our jobs worth doing. Having taught in a pretty average secondary school for the last five years I can guarantee you that the characters portrayed in Greybridge School just don’t exist in teaching today, most of all because they wouldn’t last! We on the inside know that teachers need to be made of stronger stuff than the pathetic Mr Church, and that students work damn hard to get the grades they achieve. It’s high time everyone else knows this too. BBC, I implore you – write something funny about teaching, because with this show you’ve embarrassed me, and you’ve embarrassed yourself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Appalling rubbish.. what a waste of time and money.

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    Comment number 20.

    Thanks so much for your comments. A real mix.

    We always knew that setting a show in a school might be a sticking point for people as it’s an environment we’ve all experienced. That means it’s easy for the audience to get jolted out of our world if they come across elements they don’t recognise. There are people with whom it resonated - thank you Anne Stephen and Alun64 - and people with whom it didn’t - our apologies to Jolly99Free and Emmat29.

    While the quality of the writing is not something we can neutrally comment on, we can say that we thoroughly researched the show with David. We visited schools together, observed lessons, spoke with teachers both on the record and off the record (we have many family members and friends who are teachers too) and of course we were all pupils and also have our own experiences to draw from.

    But the genre we are writing is sitcom and, in many cases, television comedy requires heightened characters and scenarios. Father Ted is not your average Irish priest. Fawlty is not your typical hotel owner. Precious from ‘Come Fly With Me’ is not reflective of all airport coffee-shop staff.
    So we had to make decisions which balanced the real world of modern education against what best served a sitcom. Time will tell whether we got the right balance between reflecting contemporary school life and making viewers laugh.

    To those who enjoyed “Big School”, our favourite episodes are yet to come and we hope you will enjoy them too. To those who didn’t, thanks for at least giving it a go; there’s a lot of great comedy being produced at the moment across lots of channels so hopefully you’ll find something that makes you laugh.


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