The Royal Bodyguard
One man, one family, one royal mess - Sir David Jason is The Royal Bodyguard
Cast and crew interviews
After a life of service in the army, Captain Guy Hubble finds himself put out to seed as a car park attendant at Buckingham Palace. That is until he is surprisingly promoted to Head of Royal Security after first endangering then miraculously saving The Queen's life.
Hubble's boss, Colonel Whittington is not amused. He is desperate to see the back of Hubble; he knows only too well about his long line of botched operations and relentless mishaps.
Though totally out of his depth, Hubble takes his new role very seriously. However he soon manages to upset foreign ambassadors, members of the public and his colleagues as he haphazardly carries out his duties. Most alarmingly, Hubble finds himself taking on dangerous one man rescue missions for The Queen and her family. Guy Hubble is a walking disaster, and the fate of The Royal Family now rests in his hands.
The Royal Bodyguard is a comedy about the wrong man, in the wrong job, in the wrong household...
The series is written, produced and directed by Mark Bussell and Justin Sbresni. They met at university and, following separate careers at ITV and the BBC, have been writing, producing, and directing comedy ever since. Their previous collaborations include BAFTA nominated The Worst Week Of My Life, which to date has sold to 121 countries and has been re-made in France, Germany, Italy, Romania and by CBS in the USA.
Mark explains what inspired them to write The Royal Bodyguard: “We wanted to create a family show. There's so much comedy that has a definite edge to it, like Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office and Family Guy, and they're some of my favourite shows. But you can't really sit and watch them comfortably with your granny or anyone under the age of 14 at one time. There aren't many shows like that around at the moment.”
Justin agrees: “When we were growing up there were classic programmes like Dad's Army or Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em which were real family viewing. Nowadays there are shows like The X Factor and Strictly which families congregate around the television to watch as a group, but there aren't many comedy shows. Mark and I have families of our own, and we wanted to write something that we could all watch together. In the last few years many comedies have been pushing the boundaries, very dark and risque. That's not what we're doing.”
He describes The Royal Bodyguard as “a show about a heroic character who is out of his depth. Some people might look at Hubble as being rather incompetent, but he always gets the job done - albeit in rather an eccentric way - and wins in the end. But the journey to that victory is strewn with all sorts of problems.”
Mark elaborates: “Hubble possesses a set of virtues that might seem somewhat out of keeping with modern society – a blind sense of loyalty and duty and a wish for things to be done properly.”
Justin: “They are very traditional values in the setting of the Royal Family: patriotism, loyalty. We didn't particularly want to be cutting edge, because the Royal Family isn't. You don't sense that the Queen is using an iPhone! We quite liked that timeless quality.”
Mark and Justin wrote the series with no-one in particular in mind so were delighted when Cheryl Taylor at the BBC told them that they would like to show the project to Sir David Jason, who they wanted to entice back into comedy at the channel after some 20 years.
Justin explains: “We didn't know David was ready to come back to comedy. He had been doing Frost and all sorts of other wonderful ITV dramas and it didn't occur to us that he might star in our series. Of course once his name was suggested his commitment to physical and visual comedy, which is something we love as well, seemed like an incredibly exciting opportunity, as it has proved.”
Mark adds: “David said that if there was one part that he would have loved to have played, it was Inspector Clouseau. So when he read our script, he could see the same DNA cord, and I think that really excited him. He is also of course associated with some of the most loved visual gags in recent television history, so he knows he is good at it and relished the opportunity to do more.”
Justin recalls: “We first got to know about David Jason towards the end of the '70s when we were just old enough to remember A Sharp Intake Of Breath and The Top Secret Life Of Edgar Briggs. Then Only Fools And Horses and Darling Buds Of May brought him firmly into the public eye. But we hadn't realised that David had honed his craft as a physical comedian in the theatre in the late '60s and '70s and he is incredibly good at it. I think he spent about ten years perfecting his skills on stage, including 18 months in No Sex Please, We're British at the Aldwych Theatre, during which time he threw himself around night after night. He is like an athlete really. He knows exactly how to fall and bounce back and we don't know many actors who can do that. So he was ideal for this part, because it is very physical humour. There is a lot of farce and a lot of visual comedy in the series. It's what we enjoy watching, writing and producing as well. We enjoy writing stuff that gets a big reaction – which physical comedy tends to, when you get it right.”
Mark laughs: “David's age was also an advantage - having an action hero who is over the age of sixty was, in the end, funnier than casting someone who might traditionally be in their forties.”
He continues: “It's the most ambitious thing Justin and I have ever done. These are six little films really. David is obviously a brilliant comedy actor and once we knew he was committed to the project we could have fun writing with him in mind. This series gave us the chance to show his incredible versatility.”
Justin: “The key difference between this and Worst Week is that Hubble is more successful, a winner, whereas Howard sort of won right at the end of the series, after a catalogue of failure and disaster after disaster. The stakes are much higher, initially because national security is at stake, rather than one man's relationship with a family. One of the reasons why he's a Royal Bodyguard is that when you've got something going wrong in a comedy, you want the stakes to be as high as possible. And it doesn't get much higher than royal security!
“So Hubble gets a very responsible job following a chain of events that are misinterpreted. The Queen takes a shine to his achievements, especially after he saves her life, and gives him the job and nobody can really trump The Queen. Once he's there, despite the fact that there are various people who are his immediate bosses who think he's a complete twit, they can't get rid of him.”
Mark and Justin enjoyed working with Jimmy Mulville of Hat Trick Productions again, as Justin explains: “He's a huge fan of visual humour, a real enthusiast. And Cheryl Taylor of the BBC is also into physical comedy and was looking for big scale, ambitious comedy along the lines of Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em. So we felt well supported.”
Jimmy was one of the founders of Hat Trick Productions in 1986 and since then has seen it grow into one of the country's leading producers of comedy, drama and entertainment. In 1999 he received the BAFTA Award for Outstanding Creative Contribution to Television. Jimmy is a Fellow of the Royal Television Society and recently received an honorary doctorate from the University of Liverpool.
He was thrilled when David Jason agreed to star in The Royal Bodyguard: “I worked with him in 1978 when I was a baby radio producer and he was in Week Ending and once he was on board we could develop the scripts with him in mind.
“It's family fun, and it's not in any way a satirical piece. It's about a man who has been promoted to a level just above his competence, which audiences will recognise. Each week we see David looking like a swan, very confident on the surface but pulling like crazy underneath!
“It's a show that you can sit down and watch with your family – it's just like sitting in a warm bath. You can lie back and let it wash over you. It's beautifully performed and we have some really fantastic character actors. As a producer I always say that if you have a great script you will always attract great talent and the ripple effect of that is that people do want to be in the show. We were lucky enough to get a star like David Jason and everyone followed.”
Sir David John White, OBE, is better known by his stage name, David Jason. In a career spanning almost half a century, he will always be remembered for his iconic portrayal of Del Boy in the long-running BBC One sitcom Only Fools and Horses. Other high profile television roles include Granville in Open All Hours and Pop Larkin in The Darling Buds of May. Sir David has since become well known for his drama work, including Detective Jack Frost in A Touch of Frost, and two adaptations of Terry Pratchett's fantasy novels, Hogfather and The Colour of Magic. Other notable and award-winning roles include Porterhouse Blue, The Second Quest, All The King's Men and A Bit Of A Do.
The Royal Bodyguard marks the 71-year-old's first comedy series for the BBC since Only Fools and Horses ended in 1991. David explains what drew him back: “I've never really left comedy. It's just that I was asked to do some other things which interested me, which started with Darling Buds Of May and from that came Frost. But with everything I have done I have tried to make sure there's some comedy in it. I was offered various parts once Frost came to an end, but nothing was really of any interest until this script came along and I just thought it was very funny.
“Hubble's a boulder short of a coast line. His heart is in totally the right place, he's just a wonderful character, but it's all happened by default and accident. He's also got a very old-fashioned sense of duty. He doesn't know that he is inadequate. It's everyone else who are not up to their jobs. The three other lead actors are so good at playing it straight that it makes my job so much easier because my character is so inept, so daft sometimes that the thing that holds it together, the glue, is his opposite numbers, played by fantastic actors.
“One of the strengths of the show as far as I'm concerned is that my immediate bosses, led so brilliantly by Geoffrey Whitehead, lend such gravity and dignitas to any situation, such a reality which really makes me laugh; their weight, truth and solidness means that the scrapes Hubble gets himself into, well, they give them a much greater truth. But Hubble totally has the ear of the Queen and every time his boss wants to fire him, she calls him to say how thrilled she is with his work.”
Jimmy laughs: “Hubble is a military man through and through. His father almost killed Winston Churchill, so it runs in the family! He has the purest of intentions but he just doesn't back it up with anything. The thing about this character is that he's loveable because he cares about his job, he cares about his country, he's got lovely, impeccable values. It's just that lethal combination of incompetence and enthusiasm. We've all worked with people like that. It's a complete nightmare! Hubble gets up in the morning to do a serious day's work; the fact is that he keeps putting his foot in it and he just keeps on digging, he just doesn't know that he is facing the wrong way!”
Justin agrees: “He's very confident but he doesn't really think things through. He's taken orders for 30 or 40 years and now he's in a position where he has to take the initiative himself, and he's just not used to it...”
David relished playing the part: “This is very visual comedy. It's the sort of television we've lost sight of maybe. There's plenty of hard-hitting comedy and drama out there, and that's fine, but we feel there if room for this old-fashioned, timeless style. People still love Laurel and Hardy and Morecambe and Wise, and Tommy Cooper. It's simple but very, very funny.”
Jimmy: “It's a celebration of innocence; we see Hubble walking towards a cliff edge every week and we're screaming at him 'Don't go there!' It harks back to the sort of old world that doesn't exist anymore, where people have fantastic values and a real sense of duty, and then the real world intrudes – we have a siege and a theft for example – but then the lovely world is repaired at the end of each episode.”
He adds: “There's a Peter Sellers film called The Party. The lead character is fired from a film set because he's a terrible extra and the producer says he never wants to see the man again. So the secretary puts his name on a blacklist. But she's accidently written it on the paper underneath, which is a party guest list. So the idiot is invited to the party and of course he wreaks havoc. What's happened here is that this particular fool has been invited into the inner sanctum of the Royal Family by error and his boss, played by Geoffrey Whitehead, knows that he is a ticking time bomb, but somehow he manages to get it right in the end.”
David met the Queen when he received his knighthood: “She is very polite, very nice, but she didn't enter into conversation. She did ask me what I was doing next and I was such a fool. I said “I'm doing the Christmas special of Only Fools And Horses and I felt a bit of a wally. I do think she's got quite a good sense of humour and I don't think she'll find anything to be offended by in this. It's a very affectionate portrayal. Hubble would take a bullet for her!”
As for the kind of comedies that he likes: “My daughter, my wife and I all love Miranda Hart. I like her because it's wonderfully old-fashioned humour. I also really like Michael McIntyre. You're safe with him. He is so clever and observant, very physical, walks around and brings his jokes to life. He doesn't just stand there and tell jokes and take the p**s out of the audience. I recently saw him do a simple joke about the way people behave when they are caught in a traffic jam and I absolutely knew what he was talking about.”
Jimmy: “I have noticed an appetite from the broadcasters for this kind of show. Shows that families can gather round, ITV pre-watershed sitcoms, Sky are buying comedy real estate like it's going out of fashion. BBC One want more. There's a yearning for shows that make you feel good – maybe that has something to do with the recession.”
David agrees: “Tommy Cooper and Morecambe and Wise have funny bones. You just have to look at them and you start giggling.”
Mark: “Dad's Army and Open All Hours are decently constructed, they're not about effing and blinding. Call me old fashioned, but if I'm watching a comedy, I'm looking for an involuntary response over which we have no control and it's called... a laugh.”
David adds: “I learned most of my craft from being on stage. I took over from Michael Crawford in No Sex Please and they were some of the happiest times of my life. I love being on stage. There's nothing like hearing a full house really falling about laughing at your antics – that's what drove me into this business. It's a wonderful feeling, the best drug in the world.”
He laughs: “The Royal Bodyguard was great fun but very hard work. Some of the things they made me do! We had a brilliant stunt co-ordinator and a stunt man to do the very tricksy things, but I still get thrown into mud and fall into tanks of water and I'm swinging on pipes and jumping down a chimney covered in soot. I got wrapped in cellophane at a spa and was cocooned in cling-film for the entire day – I couldn't get my hands on my lunch!
“I also got to wear a crown topper, one of those one-size-fits-all wigs you used to be able to buy over the counter. You put it on and tried to comb it and it looked like a bird had nested on your head. You still occasionally see elderly gentlemen wearing a wig he's probably had since he was 25-ish but his head has shrunk and his white hair is a completely different colour from the wig, which is a funny sort of fox colour which you can see coming a mile off. Nowadays people like Beckham have made it fashionable to be bald or close shaven.”
Timothy Bentinck plays Sir Edward Hastings. A top voice-artist, Timothy is probably best known for playing David Archer in the long running BBC Radio 4 soap The Archers, and is perhaps less well-known as the voice of the “Mind The Gap” recording on the London Underground. He has made numerous appearances in theatre, television and film since 1978, and his TV credits include Heartbeat, Silent Witness and The Bill.
Mark: “Timothy here plays a very British establishment character, someone who wants to see the best in everyone, and there is a kind of bumbling amateurism to him, really wanting a quiet life. If there's any trouble and the Queen says 'Hubble can handle this' Hastings is not going to question that. The costume designer picked up on something quite nice. All of Sir Edward's ties are cricket ties of some sort – there's a sense of “It's just not cricket', a sense of the importance of fair play.”
Justin adds: “Timothy's character brings a very interesting dynamic to the character of Hubble, because he likes him. That's really important – if everyone thinks Hubble is an idiot with no redeeming features, then the audience might do too. Hastings brought sympathy and warmth to the setting, which gives the series a bit more light and shade.”
Timothy laughs: “My character is a mandarin in some ministry and in charge of Guy Hubble, much to his consternation. But Sir Edward is very kind to Hubble unlike Dennis, the colonel who loathes him. Geoffrey Whitehead and I are both tall, so in order to distinguish between us we needed to find a different kind of attitude towards Hubble. The Queen loves him and because I've got Her Majesty on the blower, I've got to make it work somehow. Dennis thinks he's an absolute idiot, because Dennis is a military man and it's a military thing. But my character is prepared to see the nice side of everybody and he's a sweet man. I really got to like him because what he really wants to do is go fishing and watch the cricket, drink cups of tea and look after his garden. He doesn't want this terrible sort of trouble. But he recognises something quintessentially English about Hubble in that whatever he does, he tries really, really hard.”
He continues: “That's what the series is based on, the idea of being quintessentially English and of the underdog. Guy Hubble is the underdog of underdogs, and although he's absolutely useless, he always comes through. It's rather like the English rugby team of 2007. Somehow they got to the final and but for a foot in touch they would've won the damn thing against the Southies. That's what he warms to in Hubble – he's a trier.”
Of David Jason Timothy says: “He's a complete and utter delight, great fun. He's also very game. On the first day pretty much he ran across the room and smashed his head into a grandfather clock, not once but twice! I really admired that. It's timeless humour. You can't go wrong when someone snaps off a salute, turns smartly, walks through a door, closes the door and there's a crash at the other side.”
He adds: “Although Del Boy's 'through the bar' moment is frequently voted the funniest thing on television ever, I hadn't quite realised what a fantastic physical comedian David is, and he really reminds me of Norman Wisdom at his best. It's slapstick par excellence, and David's a master of comic timing. It's also wonderfully universal humour, which will translate beautifully all over the world. I'm looking forward to hearing myself dubbed into Armenian or Japanese! And above all it's a real family show – everyone from six to eighty will love it.”
Geoffrey Whitehead plays Dennis Whittington. Geoffrey has appeared in a huge range of television, film and radio roles, including the iconic Z Cars, Reggie Perrin, Little Dorrit, and previously worked with Mark and Justin in The Worst Week of my Life, playing Howard's long suffering stepfather, Dick Cook. An acclaimed theatre actor, Geoffrey has performed at Shakespeare's Globe, St. Martin's Theatre and The Bristol Old Vic.
This is the fourth project Mark and Justin have done with Geoffrey Whitehead, as Mark explains: “He's an absolute joy. Jimmy described him the other day as the unsung hero of British comedy.”
Justin agrees: “No-one is as funny as Geoffrey and as a foil to characters like Howard or Hubble, you have to have a disapproving character in a funny way. He makes a lack of sympathy very funny because he is so rude about Hubble.”
Geoffrey sees his character as someone who suffers at the hands of Hubble, “but it is tinged with a great deal of pleasure. Watching David Jason perform at close range for several weeks has been the most wonderful opportunity. The part came out of the blue and was heaven sent!”
Geoffrey had never worked with David Jason before: “Off screen he's quite serious and friendly, but you don't get an idea of the energy he brings to his comic performances. He's got funny bones. He walks into the room and he's like a bit of jelly. He can fall over and stand up again, turn around and go out and he's an exceptionally funny, gifted comedian.
“He's so inventive. My main difficulty with the part was keeping a straight face, because a lot of the things he does to my character and to Yates, played by Tim Downie, require us to be very disapproving and unamused, which is very difficult when he has just emptied two full cups of coffee over you and put cream all over your tie and made it worse and keeps coming back – especially when he's winking and looking you straight in the eye.”
He continues: “There's a bit of Inspector Clouseau in Hubble, a bit of Frank Spencer. It reminds me of those Norman Wisdom films which require an energy and a level of slapstick that you don't see much today. Modern comedy tends to be very edgy and ironic and this is a refreshing change. The Royal Bodyguard is a throw-back to the good old days, I think.”
Tim Downie plays Yates. Tim was the Duke of Gloucester in the 2010 Academy Award winning feature film The King's Speech. He is an actor and writer, whose screen credits include New Tricks, Doctors and Hollyoaks, and whose plays have toured the UK and include The Dead Moon, the first non-operatic piece to be performed at the Aldeburgh Festival, and The Curse Of Elizabeth Faulkner which premiered at the King's Head Theatre, London.
Mark: “Yates is doing the job he always wanted, but his ambitions are being thwarted by this man Hubble. He can see just how incompetent he is, and yet no-one else apart from Dennis can see it. So he has the double frustration of someone taking his dream job and someone who's not very good at it to boot, being congratulated on how well he is doing it. Tim plays that stewing resentment really well. It is thrilling for us to have a new face in the series.”
Tim laughs: “I'm often the brunt of Hubble's disastrous behaviour. I nearly got taken off the set the other day because no-one recognises me unless I'm covered in rubbish and blood and strapped up in neck braces!”
Tim found it difficult to keep a straight face when working with Sir David: “We had so much fun making the series and the corpsing on set was awful. He has such a glint in his eye and is the master of the double take, of which I'm a huge fan. I'm a huge fan of classic British comedies like Around The Horn and Open All Hours, and I think this series taps into that old fashionedness, moving away from sarcasm, plays its heart on its sleeve.”
David Walliams guest stars as Sir Ambrose, Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures. The English comedian, writer and actor is best known for his partnership with Matt Lucas in the TV sketch show Little Britain. More recently he and Lucas wrote and starred in Come Fly With Me. Walliams has also become a national hero for his charitable endeavours for Sport Relief which include swimming the English Channel and the full length of the River Thames.
Mark explains that: “David Walliams is a big James Bond fan and has imbued his villainous character Sir Ambrose with a variety of Bond villains with their stony stares. He's very still, eyeing up Hubble with great disdain.”
David agrees: “I guess my character is partially based on Anthony Blunt, who was Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures and also a traitor. There was a group of Oxford spies recruited in the '50s and he was supposed to be one of them which only came to light I think in the '80s. Alan Bennett wrote a play about it called A Question of Attribution which I saw on stage and which was subsequently televised, so this is a kind of comic version of him. My character turns out to be much darker than first imagined.”
He had no hesitation in agreeing to take the part: “David Jason is a hero of mine, an idol. I'd never met him before as he is very private so it's not as if you are going to bump into him in a restaurant or at an awards ceremony. I grew up watching him. He's a legend and a great talent. I love to work with people I really respect because I want to learn from them and it was a fun part as well – plus I got paid to do it. Sir David really is a national treasure, and his success is based on so many things over the years and the chance to work with him is amazing.”
David admits that Sir David has influenced his work: “What he does so brilliantly is comedy with a heart. You really empathise with his characters. I'm in awe of him and I love watching him at work.”
Although best known for such edgy comedy as Little Britain and Come Fly With Me, David feels that there is a place for more traditional comedy: “I can happily sit down and watch Morecambe and Wise and then I can watch Chris Morris and I don't think there is anything strange about those very different types of comedy co-existing. Comedy should be judged on whether it's funny, not on whether it's traditional or has a laughter track. Now it seems that comedians want to be cool so that it is seen as a bit naff to be on BBC One and have loads of viewers. But David has proved that that is not the case – you can have mass appeal and still make great work, from Open All Hours to Only Fools and Horses. Granville and Del Boy are almost like folk heroes, and to be that iconic in so many different roles is just incredible.”
Mark adds: “David Walliams was a joy to work with and we were a kind of distraction for him from his swimming training of course as he was about to set off on his epic journey to swim the length of the Thames for Sport Relief. He did a few days with us then went off and swum another thousand lengths!”
David Jason found the experience of working with Walliams very interesting: “You see him in those sketch shows and he's so large and aggressive and plays such strange people that I was expecting him to be a bit eccentric, but he's totally the opposite. He's very polite and very quiet and well mannered, and he's also very good at what he does and I was delighted by all that. But it was a surprise when he came on the set for the first time and wasn't loud.”
David Jason will be watching himself when The Royal Bodyguard screens: “I'm not a great fan of doing that because you get terribly haunted by bits that don't work and you think you could have done better, but I do like to get a sense of a first night, when others are watching. It will be me, my wife and daughter, because if I am surrounded by lots of people, every time they don't laugh it's like a nail in the coffin, and you feel that if they really laugh at something they're being polite. So experiencing the first episode going out live is a very haunting experience and not a pleasurable one, but it has to be done, sitting there with people all around the country watching you as the credits roll.”
The opening and closing music has been recorded by the Prague Symphony Orchestra. David: “That helps to give this show some real weight. With all the cut backs I thought we might have a bloke with a drum and a whistle. The composer Julian Nott is responsible for Wallace and Gromit. It's marvellous what we've squeezed out of the budget.”
He concludes: “Making The Royal Bodyguard has been hard work and long hours. Physically it's the most demanding role I have done. It all starts with the script. Then you look for something interesting in the character and take it from there. Now it's out of my hands and we'll just have to see how the good old British public respond...”
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