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 41.

    I feel like screaming..this is a sit-com, not a documentary!!! Well done to the Dawson Brothers for a refreshing comedy. Most sit-coms take a while to bed in, but I was laughing our loud by episode 2.( Why isn't anyone complaining about how unrealistic Waterloo Road is, and that's not a comedy!)
    The headmistress is the best character, a characature of what teachers think of their leader, in the same way as the teachers are characters those of us that work in secondary schools recognise or even remember from their own school days.

    I could be tempted to complain about the character who works with Mr Church, who I think is portraying a science technician, which is my job. But then I have been described by a pupil in the past as 'the lady who lives in a cupboard', and it would only confirm people's worst suspicions that scientists do not have a sense of humour!
    I shall continue to watch with interest.

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    Comment number 42.

    Just watched episode 2 and I think it's shaping up to be one of the great comedy shows of all time.
    Just loving it !

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    Comment number 43.

    So glad episode 2 was funnier than episode 1 because I nearly gave up watching it after last week's show!

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    I have been telling everyone I know that I went to school with you! Unashamedly dining out on your success guys. Well done it is excellent. How much have you based on our time at Abingdon? Cheers

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    Comment number 45.

    A great comedy - love it!! I am a Headteacher, but can easily watch this comedy knowing that aspects of school life have been exaggerated for the purposes of 'laughing out loud'! A fabulous cast - very talented team - well done to everyone!

    There are very mixed comments on this blog - a quick message to the writers: you can never please everyone (only too true in my job!!), but please take on board all the positivity; your work is making a lot of people laugh - 'objective achieved'.

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    Comment number 46.

    This is a pathetic waste of money and effort.

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    Comment number 47.

    My wife and I looked forward to the first episode and very much enjoyed it. Ditto the second.

    The use of some stereotypes as in Only Fools and Horses should please N Lyndhurst and answer his recent complaints.

    We hope to see how the headmistress (= Alastair Sim's Miss Amelia Fritton?) develops.

    It's not Bad Education, but that's what BBC3 is for.

  • Comment number 48.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Why does the summary of the first episode refer to ans "Austin Maxi"? Mr Church's mustard colured vehicle is clearly an Austin Allegro.

    Compare and contrast the following exhibits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    “Please Sir” meets “The Grimleys”! Mildly amusing but very unoriginal and predictable. Loved Catherine Tate though! Brian Conley and Amanda Holden were a dream team in “The Grimleys” and this set-up does not really hold a candle to it! Lets hope it improves with time!

  • Comment number 51.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    As a teacher I think its really good comedy. If you can't laugh at your self then the world is a sad place. Great to see a school comedy which ignore the PC brigade, government targets, Ofsted and the over emphasised rights of kids; and concentrates on teachers with their quirky characters and personalities.
    After all, we all remember from our own schooldays those teachers whose personalities stood out - they made lessons interesting.
    The comedy follows a great British tradition set by people like Will Hay, Charles Hawtry and series like Please Sir. Long may it continue.

  • Comment number 53.

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

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    Comment number 54.

    I think it's getting better & better !! As the writers say, it is sitcom ; do real families, real detectives, real nurses etc. behave like their Comedy/Drama counterparts ? Of course not, but there are recognizable elements which add to the enjoyment. Who has not known some daft, eccentric, pretentious, absurd, ineffectual, sexually frustrated teachers ? Or bored, boring, ignorant, predictable, sexually overcharged students ? Or been one or the other or both ? Come on.

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    Comment number 55.

    Loads of new interesting comments since this blog got a plug at the end of episode two. Thanks again to everyone who’s posted.

    We were heartened by the thoughtfulness of people like Paul Flaherty saying “don’t listen to the naysayers”. But that raises an important question: who are we trying to please with Big School?

    Should we be chasing ratings or good reviews? Should we be writing what we hope will make an audience laugh, or what we know makes us laugh? It’s a balancing act. In penning the scripts, we’d often discard lines we didn’t think a BBC One audience would like; equally there are lots of niche jokes in there that will only appeal to those with our sensibilities. For example, we devoted time to deciding whether Mr Martin would like a more mainstream indie band like ‘Ocean Colour Scene’ or if it would be funnier for him to be into ‘Pavement’ or ‘David Devant & His Spirit Wife’. (By the way, we call this “essential character development” - you probably call this “pointless frippery”.)

    There’s a concern voiced by Ospreylian1 that the hectoring of Mr Barber might fuel the bullying of Welsh teachers across the nation. Those scenes were based on our experiences at school - and how cruel we remember the kids being. (And commenter Henry Dorling can back us up on this!) We hope Mr Barber gets a laugh of recognition, not that people will laugh at his pain.

    techie7 thanks for the lovely comment - you’ll be interested to hear that both Tim and David’s mothers were also lab technicians.

    And Curtains2012 is absolutely right; Mr Church’s car is an Austin Allegro. Fun fact: the moment at the start of episode three, with Mr Church sat in his car staking out a drugs deal, was the very first scene we shot. At eight o’clock on a chilly April morning, the Austin Allegro offers little warmth.

    Finally, John B was asking how we format scripts. The truth is there’s no real industry standard - people will accept scripts in any format as long as it’s legible! We use our very own Google Docs script template which you can have here for free!

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Good lord, there are some terrible comments on here. To those writing some incredibly nasty, impolite comments - you know that people can actually see these, don't you? I'm all for enlightened critique, but so many of the comments here are merely splenetic vomiting. How about showing a modicum of respect for other people, eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    I don't have a TV, so came to this late after hearing David Walliams on the Radio 2 breakfast show and meaning to watch, only to keep forgetting! just watched all of the first three episodes back-to-back. Excellently written, funny, and gently touching - this is light situation comedy to savour. Nothing overly-taxing, but eminently enjoyable with well-rounded characters expertly-played. I enjoyed this more, I'm ashamed to say, than I'd expected. I know how hard it is to write for a living - many congratulations to all concerned in getting this genuinely-good series commissioned and broadcast. x

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    "Big School" is just not very good. Bring back "Chalk" - that really was very funny indeed! David Bamber as the deputy head was sublime. And although it was made over 10 years ago, it has a much more modern feel to it than "Big School" - Steven Moffat knows how to write a great comedy script.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    great show, loving it. what is the credit music????? it's driving me nuts..... round and round in my head, sounds familiar but can't place it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    It is spot on and is up there with the best British comedies of the last 40 years. Engaging and relaxing. Great cast. Hope to see it repeated like Dad's Army in 2030.


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