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Elliott Kerrigan on the 'Boy Meets Girl' journey

Elliott Kerrigan

Writer

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Elliott Kerrigan is a writer and a creator of the BBC Two comedy Boy Meets Girl which was discovered through the Trans Comedy Award – a BBC Writersroom talent search in partnership with Trans Comedy.

Elliott talks about his experiences of making his Boy Meets Girl and the people he's met along the way.

Elliott Kerrigan - writer/creator of BBC Two's 'Boy Meets Girl' (Photo credit: Newcastle Chronicle)

I must’ve done something right in a former life because tonight, at 9.30pm, on BBC Two, the first episode of Boy Meets Girl will be on TV. It’s been an incredible journey… Hang on a second. I still can’t believe that I got to write that opening sentence. A sitcom on BBC Two. I still don’t understand how I got to be so lucky. But getting to this night (and it feels like it’s the biggest night of my life), has been made up of moments, moments which have been the happiest of my life. Moments that I will never forget.

Leo (HARRY HEPPLE), Judy (REBECCA ROOT) Image Credit: BBC Pictures/Diverse

Walking into the studio for the first time

I’m going to sound as naïve as the chick that’s just left the newly hatched egg, but I’m going to admit something which maybe I shouldn’t (I don’t want people thinking I’m thick), but I thought a TV show was made like this: you shot Episode 1, and then you shot Episode 2 and then you shot Episode 3 etc. Of course, what happens is that you do all of the Macdonald living room scenes in one go, all the Arkley kitchen scenes in one go etc. At the beginning of the shoot, we did all the exterior scenes and the scenes in an actual location (a salon). We then moved into the studio.

I’m someone who’s seen a lot of movies (too many, I can hear my family saying) but walking into the studio for the first time reminded me of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. It’s like that. It is the strangest feeling. And that’s just seeing the studio. I was then shown around the sets. Well… It kind of takes your breath away. You write ‘INT. PEGGY’S LIVING ROOM’ and then, all of a sudden, I’m walking round Peggy’s living room. And you notice the incredible attention to detail. Andrea Hughes, the production designer, and her team of incredibly talented people, created the actual home where Judy lives, where Leo lives. But what I loved about the sets, was how much they reflected the character. You walk into Peggy’s house and you know that Peggy lives there (it’s cluttered). You walk into Pam’s house and you know that Pam rules that roost. It’s her taste, and no one else’s. And that’s all down to Andrea and her team.

Pam (DENISE WELCH), Peggy (JANINE DUVITSKI) Image Credit: BBC/Diverse

Being At The Pub Location

The first or second week of the shoot, we were in a pub for four days, doing scenes for Episode 2. Now I think being in there for such a long time drove the actors nuts, but I loved it. Here’s why. While we were there, it was either snowing or there was a blizzard. And the tea and coffee stuff had to be kept outside. So, if you wanted a tea or coffee, you had to go into the blizzard (it reminded me of the snowy scenes in The Shining.) So Matt Green, the production runner, would be making everyone tea and coffee. I would join him, in the snow, to make his and my cup of herbal tea. You write a script one day, sitting in your bedroom, and you just can’t envision that there’ll be a day where you’re making you and your friend a cup of herbal tea in a blizzard. And that’s what I loved about this shoot. It’s week 2. I meet Matt at the beginning of the shoot. And by week 2 he’s a friend. 

Pam (DENISE WELCH), Judy (REBECCA ROOT), Leo (HARRY HEPPLE) Image Credit: BBC Pictures/Diverse

Going To The Theatre

Again, I’m going to sound really thick. But I just never go to the theatre (Rebecca Root and Harry Hepple will be shaking their heads if they read this). The last thing I saw was Dana in Peter Pan. I must’ve been six. I read a lot of plays, but I just never see them performed live. (At this point, Rebecca has stopped reading. Harry too) But we’re in the studio, and Lizzie Roper, who plays Jackie (Judy’s sister), comes up to me and said, ‘What are you doing on Monday night?’ I said ‘Nothing.’ Lizzie said, ‘We’re going to the theatre.’ She then walked away. Monday rolls round and I’m thinking, ‘I bet Lizzie’s forgotten all about the play.’ Well she hadn’t. That night, we go to the theatre. How strange it was to go to the theatre, walk in, get drinks, sit down to watch a play and have NO IDEA what the play’s about. But here’s the thing: I had the best time. I enjoyed the play, very much, but what I loved was my time with Lizzie Roper. She is hysterical. One of the funniest people I’ve ever spent time with, but here’s what I love about Lizzie. She will laugh her head off. She isn’t afraid to just laugh her head off. She starts laughing, you start laughing and by the end of the night, you’ve never laughed so much in your life. Lizzie Roper. The best.

Jackie (LIZZIE ROPER) Image Credit: BBC Pictures/Diverse

Watching Denise’s Big Scene

It’s towards the end of the shoot. Denise Welch is doing her big scene (I won’t say what it is, as I don’t want to spoil the plot, but it’s Episode 6). The scene’s taking place at a party, so the lighting in the studio has been changed, and the Macdonald living room was bathed in a really strange light. The living room just felt different. Now for every shot of the show, I sat and watched it on a monitor. But for Denise’s big scene, I snuck onto the set and watched. Everyone on set is as busy as ever but everyone’s as quiet as a mouse. We all know that this is going to be THE scene. It’s time. Paul Walker (what a great man and what a great director) says ‘Action’ and Denise and Nigel Betts, Jonny Dixon and Harry Hepple do the scene. It really is electric. I discovered afterwards that I’d been holding my breath during the scene. But here’s what I’ll never forget. Just watching Denise. She wasn’t just nailing the character. She did that in every other scene. But in this scene, I was watching a woman at the height of her powers. She was like a hurricane. And that night, I was thinking about my very favourite performances, the performers who spoke to me the most, those who are better than anyone has a right to be: Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday, the entire cast of The Boys in the Band, and I had to add to my list: Denise Welch in Boy Meets Girl.

Pam (DENISE WELCH) Image Credit: BBC Pictures

The Macdonald Men

I was staying in the same hotel as Harry Hepple, Jonny Dixon and Nigel Betts, so I got to see them all the time. I love them off set and I love them on set. I loved chatting to Nigel about books on the way to the studio, or chatting to Jonny about movies, and I’d grill Harry about all the famous people he’s encountered (he’s met one of my heroes: Tori Amos). But watching these three on-set was something I’ll never forget. It’s what they do with the script. For example, Jonny would do little things which lifted little moments from ‘great’ to ‘wow.’ One moment (and it’s a favourite moment): Pam has answered Leo’s phone and is talking to Judy for the first time. They’re talking. Meanwhile, James (played by Jonny Dixon) is pretending to be holding a grenade, he removes the pin and then lobs the grenade when Pam asks Judy a particular question. Now none of the grenade bit is in the script, but Jonny has transformed the scene. And it’s all in character. Jonny is just one of the most gifted comedy actors I’ve ever watched. But like I said to him, I can’t wait to see him do a drama as I love watching the really great comedy actors do a drama (like Steve Martin in The Spanish Prisoner).

I’m just thinking about Harry and Nigel. I know that Harry is a big fan of Gene Wilder and Peter Sellers and, some of the stuff Harry does, those two greats would be nodding their head in approval. Just watch what Harry does in Ep 4 when he’s gulping down some wine (he’s nervous about something that I won’t reveal here). There’s something about Harry in this moment. I don’t know what it is…Because I find it hysterical. And Harry isn’t asking us for the laugh. Far from it. He’s Leo, in his kitchen, nervous. It feels real and true. And then there are Nigel’s scenes with everybody. He’s terrific. But in his scenes with Denise. He can give Denise a look, and you know that the two (characters) have been married for years and years. Just a delight to watch and work alongside.

Tony (NIGEL BETTS) Image Credit: BBC Pictures/Diverse

Maybe My Favourite Moment

Janine Duvitski. One of the great pleasures of the shoot, and my life, was spending time with Janine. I think she’s a peerless talent. Extraordinary. But as much as I adore her on set, it’s ‘off set Janine’ that I love the most. If someone needed Janine, they just had to go to the canteen and there we’d be, sitting, huddled over a lemon and ginger herbal tea, sharing our most personal stories. I told Janine one personal story. She was then called to the set. Much later, she leaves the set and she gets back to my personal story. That’s the kind of human being she is. But the moment I’ll never forget: we’d been discussing plays earlier that week (the final week). I’d asked Janine who I should read. She said Chekhov (I said I’ve read his stuff), Janine then recommended Dennis Potter and Caryl Churchill, whose work I didn’t know at all. It’s Janine and Lizzie’s last day. They come into the canteen with their hands behind their back. They’ve got me presents. Lizzie has got me a DVD boxset, a show that Lizzie and Janine were both in – The Worst Week Of My Life, I’ve now watched it and it’s one of the best sitcoms I’ve ever seen. Janine gave me a gift. I opened it and saw Cloud 9 by Caryl Churchill. I saw that Janine had written an inscription:

A favourite writer of mine
To Elliott
A favourite writer of mine

Well let’s just say I shed a whole load of manly tears.

Peggy (JANINE DUVITSKI) Image Credit: BBC Pictures/Diverse

RR

I feel like me and Rebecca Root have gone through this whole experience, shoulder to shoulder. She feels like a sister now. I love her to bits. I’ve loved watching her on screen, making me laugh and then breaking my heart and then making me laugh again. But here’s the moment I’ll always remember. Last week I was in Edinburgh and I was lucky enough to see Rebecca’s play, Trans Scripts, at the festival. All the actresses on stage were incredible. It was all very moving. At the end, the actresses start saying women’s names. The names begin to overlap and it becomes a chorus of names. And then I see Rebecca shout one name. That name: Judy. The look on Rebecca’s face as she said it... Well I can’t describe it. But I had the same look on my face. And that’s what will connect us forever.

Judy (REBECCA ROOT) Image Credit: BBC/Diverse

Working On The Scripts

In some ways, this was my favourite part of making Boy Meets Girl. It’s just you, in a room, playing music, drinking tea and thinking about the characters, listening to hear their voices. And then there’s the time I spent with Team Tiger: Sophie Clarke-Jervoise (Executive Producer), Margot Gavan Duffy (Producer) and my brilliant co-writers: Simon Carlyle and Andrew Mettam. We would spend days in a room, sharing story ideas, pinning up ideas on a board and watching the episodes take shape. I learned so much during this time. Something Simon said I actually wrote down in my phone so that I can never forget it: ‘Get in to the scene late so plot points are up and moving quick and then fall out can be enjoyed and relished and find gags in that area rather than in the set up.’ Well I now know that this is crucial. I used to spend a page leading up to the first plot point. In my mind, I was making it seem really natural. But, of course, each scene has to push the story forward. So I keep Simon’s great advice in my phone and I check it all the time, just to remind myself what the scene should be.

But here’s the really interesting thing. These people become friends. You aren’t just discussing scripts all day. You talk about your life and you talk about their life. Me and Simon share war stories from the dating game. And me and Andrew can go for a pizza and discuss everything under the sun. And then there’s Sophie and Margot. Kind, funny, wonderful company, and you couldn’t find two better people to guide a show from beginning to end.

A really interesting thing happened during the writing of the scripts. We had just written Episode 2. I loved it. It was full of great moments and really funny. Kristian Smith at the BBC read it and came back with some really insightful notes, which I’ve never forgotten to this day. Kristian pointed out that the script had no ‘X’. So for every episode, you should be able to say, ‘This is the one where ‘X’ happens.’ But in our Episode 2, we didn’t really have that. We had a few small things going on, but we didn’t have an ‘X.’ Kristian, wisely, got us to move episodes around. So Episode 3 was moved up to Episode 2. And we created a whole new Episode 3.

Peggy (JANINE DUVITSKI), Jackie (LIZZIE ROPER), Leo (HARRY HEPPLE), Judy (REBECCA ROOT), Anji (VINEETA RISHI), Pam (DENISE WELCH), Tony (NIGEL BETTS), James (JONNY DIXON) Image Credit: BBC/Diverse

I feel like I should wrap this up now. I’ve really overstayed my welcome with this. But I’ll just end by saying this: it’s been two years of miracles for me. I mean that. I entered a competition! What are the odds? I don’t know. And then not only do I get to make an actual TV show, but it changes my life. The people, the laughs, the tears, the moments I’ll never forget. Actually, I’ll end with two things:

One

I got to do a TV show for the BBC. If I were to do a list of my favourite TV shows, that list would include: Who Pays The Ferryman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Smiley’s People, Two Fat Ladies, The Office and Gavin & Stacey. All BBC shows, and shows that only the BBC would make. I’ll be eternally grateful to Kristian Smith and Shane Allen at the BBC for taking a chance on this Northern Lad.

Two

My family: mam, dad, Karl, Isobel and Ronnie the dog, have followed the making of the show with huge interest, even Ronnie. They read everything about everyone connected to the show. When they saw the Boy Meets Girl trailer the other day they all had goose bumps. After Karl read an article about the show (I think it was a piece in the Radio Times), he emailed me to say how proud he was. I think the email was just a few lines long. But I’ll never forget his words.

Now let’s rewind to the last shot of the production. It was near the Tyne Bridge, a bridge I’ve walked under a million times. It was night time. It was raining (which we needed for the shot) and my family were all there (they’re in the background of the shot). I was so pleased that they were all there, at the end of this incredible journey I’ve been on. And it felt like every decision I’d ever made, the good ones and the bad, the ups and the down down downs, had led me to this moment. Me, the Tyne Bridge, my family, the cast and crew. I thank them all. And it all started because I saw a competition (The Trans Comedy Award) on the BBC Writersroom website. I know this much: when I entered the competition, I never imagined all of these great moments heading towards me. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

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