All my happiest television memories concern BBC comedy and in particular BBC sitcoms. It's an honour and a privilege to get the chance to be a part of that tradition again and I'm as excited today as I was when The Young Ones was commissioned 30 years ago.”Ben Elton
Date: 22.01.2013 Last updated: 19.03.2014 at 09.31
BBC One has announced that studio filming has begun on The Wright Way (previously entitled Slings And Arrows), a new six-part sitcom from writer Ben Elton.
Filming at MediaCityUK in Salford, The Wright Way is a new comedy and features a mix of established performers and fresh comedy talent, starring David Haig (The Thin Blue Line, Yes Prime Minister) and including Mina Anwar, Toby Longworth, Joanne Matthews, Beattie Edmondson, Brenda Edwards, and Luke Gell in the ensemble.
Ben Elton says: "All my happiest television memories concern BBC comedy and in particular BBC sitcoms. It's an honour and a privilege to get the chance to be a part of that tradition again and I'm as excited today as I was when The Young Ones was commissioned 30 years ago.”
As Gerald Wright, David Haig is the fastidious manager of a local council's Health and Safety department. Wright relishes the rules and regulations he uses in his professional life and only wishes he could apply them to his private life, which often stumbles haplessly into chaos.
The Wright Way was written by Ben Elton and is a Phil McIntyre Television production for BBC One. It was commissioned by BBC One Controller Danny Cohen and former Controller of Comedy Commissioning Cheryl Taylor.
The BBC executive producer is Gregor Sharp; the executive producer for Phil McIntyre Television is Lucy Ansbro and the producer is Rohan Acharya.
The Wright Way is being filmed at MediaCityUK, Salford, from January-March 2013. It begins on BBC One in week 17.
* Interview with Ben Elton and character synopses added 8 April 2013 *
Interview with Ben Elton
Tell us about the premise of The Wright Way.
The Wright Way is my first studio sitcom since The Thin Blue line almost 20 years ago so I'm very excited. Working for the BBC is a real privilege and I'm very grateful to have been given this new opportunity. I love the studio sitcom format - it's the traditional way of making television comedy and creates a real connection with the audience. You can be sure that all the laughter you hear in the show is real and was recorded live on the night! My personal favourite sitcoms are Dad’s Army and Fawlty Towers, shows which feature brilliant ensemble casts but which also have a central leading character, who is constantly at odds with the 'slings and arrows' of everyday life. In fact, Slings And Arrows was the original name for The Wright Way but I changed it because it wasn't particularly relevant to the situation, which is a Council Health and Safety Department. I chose this situation because it offers endless opportunity for logical absurdity and big physical comedy while also allowing for a bit of social satire on a subject which looms large in everyone's lives.
What is the inspiration behind the series, particularly Gerald Wright’s character?
Character is even more important than situation in comedy and Gerald certainly is a character. If I'm honest, there's a bit of me in the character (at least my wife says there is). I've certainly been known to sneak in after she's loaded the dishwasher and secretly re-loaded it to my own satisfaction! The thing about Gerald is that at heart he's a very decent man, he just goes on a bit that's all. This kind of obsessive certitude fits in well with his job as a Health and Safety Officer. He sees his mission as to irradiate all risk within his municipal jurisdiction. Even, as he his anxious to stress, if no such risk exists.
What is your writing process for a situation comedy like this?
For me, the writing process is always the same and always has been, be it a novel, a sitcom, a play or a musical. You just have to just get down to it. If I'm working on something I go to my desk straight after the kids have gone to school and try to stay there pretty much till they come home. Sometimes it's hard but I find I can only get on a roll by really focusing. The old perspiration/inspiration thing is true I'm afraid. The great thing about a sitcom, though, as opposed to a novel, is that the writing process continues in rehearsal. I love to spend time with the actors and am constantly reworking and refining the scripts, they're never fully set till we record. That's the part of the job I enjoy most.
You've worked with Adrian Edmondson and Jennifer Saunders in the past. Tell us about working with Beattie.
Well clearly Beattie got her job 100 per cent on merit: I auditioned her three times and she was up against a number of wonderful, talented funny young women all of whom I would love to work with another day. If I was conscious of Beattie's comic heritage at all it was only to be even more rigorous in my decision to cast her. Of course Adrian and Jennifer have been two of my dearest friends for more than 30 years so once I was absolutely sure that Beattie was right for the role it was lovely to share in their delight at seeing her begin to fulfil her ambitions. They came up to Salford to see one of the recordings and it was a very special night.
How much does the script change once the actors begin to bring it to life?
I certainly do keep refining the script throughout rehearsal. Having said that, the changes tend to be quite small and specific because I'm pretty clear about what I have in mind when I'm writing which is why I take such care over casting. There's no doubt that once the actors start to make the characters their own it's a real inspiration towards further comedy but they don't come up with lines, it's not a cooperative!
What inspired your return to writing for TV, and to the situation comedy in particular?
For me the sitcom is the holy grail of comedy writing, the toughest discipline but also the most rewarding. If you get it right you can become a real part of the culture in a way that other TV entertainment, be it drama, comedy or variety just doesn't. Think of Fools And Horses or Porridge or The Office or countless others. Of course that's a big ambition but you have to aim high, don't you? You also have to get the chance and I started by saying how grateful I am to have been given this one. Being back in studio at the BBC is a joy for me; it's where I started in 1981 with The Young Ones and it's truly wonderful to be back.
Gerald Wright (played
by David Haig)
Gerald Wright believes himself to be a reasonable and
rational man living in a largely unreasonable and irrational world. For Gerald,
The Wright Way is the only way, whether it’s loading the dishwasher, emptying
an overstuffed swing bin, keeping order in the 12-items-or-less queue or
enforcing bowl-loading etiquette at the Pizza Hut Salad Bar.
What is more, he will not compromise,
even with Valerie his wife, whom he adores but who sadly has left him over his
objection to her having left a bit of butter in the Marmite.
Gerald works for Basselricky Council as Head of Health and
Safety. He is a dedicated and selfless public servant, revered by his team and
loathed by his nemesis, the Mayor. Gerald’s mission is to irradiate all risk
within his municipal jurisdiction. Even, as he his anxious to stress, if no such risk exists.
Susan (played by
Gerald’s daughter. In her early 20s, Sue is feisty, grounded and capable,
except when trying to manipulate her parents’ fractured marriage. Sue runs her
own small plumbing business and recently took on her first employee, a bloke
who promptly plumbed the grey water into the immersion tank at a local care
home, thus causing all the old ladies to have a hot flush. Sue sacked him and now he’s suing her.
Victoria (played by Beattie Edmondson)
Victoria is Sue’s partner and the third
member of Gerald’s modern household. Definitely a few tracks short of a full iPod,
Victoria is as vague and unfocused as Gerald is finicky and fastidious.
Luckily she is also warm, sunny and endlessly enthusiastic, which ensures that
Gerald never stays exasperated with her for long. Vic’s big ambition is to
become a club DJ but so far she's never actually had a gig; however, being a
perpetual optimist, she never lets harsh realities stand in the way of dreaming the
Valerie (played by
Gerald had a good marriage - it’s just that in the end he ground her down. So much so that she
eventually left him for her personal trainer, an apparently feckless Australian
who, to Gerald’s horror and utter incomprehension, waxes his chest. We sense
that Gerald and Valerie’s story is not over yet but currently she is happy
enjoying the attentions of a her laid-back (and very buff) boyfriend. She also
finds it nice to be living with someone who lets her put a wet tea spoon back
in the sugar bowl without creating an atmosphere for the rest of the evening.
Malika (played by
Malika is the
closest thing to a second in command that Gerald has at work and is even more
fiercely zealous about risk management than he is. For Malika, the
perfect town would be one in which absolutely nothing is allowed at all.
Gerald hugely admires Malika’s passion and is also not indifferent to her
personal charms. However, they clash as often as they agree, which leads to a
tense and fiery relationship, particularly with the work’s annual ‘Strictly’
night approaching, an event that Gerald and Valerie have previously dominated
and Malika is determined to win.
Clive (played by Luke
Clive is the youngest member of the Health and Safety
Team, a gentle soul with a sweet disposition. He tries to see the best in
people and look on the bright side, which isn’t always easy considering his
girlfriend Yvonne’s ongoing digestive complaints and bladder infections.
Clive’s main weakness is his incorrigibly sweet tooth, which can lead to
friction in the office, not least when a communal box of Celebrations is found
to mysteriously contain no Caramels or Malteaser Teasers.
Bernard (played by Toby
the fourth and most hapless member of Gerald’s Health and Safety Team. Middle
aged and single, he’d prefer to be neither but you can’t have everything and
there’s always the pub. It’s hard to
question your lot in life when there’s a pint in your hand, pork scratchings on
the table, a bit of Quo on the jukebox and a nice quiz just about to start. Bernard
is very happy in his own skin, which is fortunate since nobody else would ever
wish to occupy it.
Mrs Johnson (played
by Brenda Edwards)
Mrs Johnson is the council office cleaner. Fiercely
protective of her toilets and her Spray n’ Wipe, Mrs Johnson seems fated to be
forever discovering Gerald in compromising but entirely innocent situations. As
Gerald tries to explain, how else was he supposed to straighten out the crash
The Mayor (played by Robert
The Head of Basselricky council, a man whose pomposity and
unashamed self-interest naturally drew him to a career in local politics. The
pretentious and convoluted manner in which he communicates is matched only by
the complex manner in which he justifies his expenses claims. Like Malika, he
sees Gerald’s recent divorce as an opportunity to finally triumph at the
upcoming Big Ballroom Night.