Newark, Newark 'would not have been commissioned 15 years ago'

By Jennifer Harby
BBC News

Image source, UKTV
Image caption,
Morgana Robinson (right) is one of a number of famous faces in the cast

Down the decades, it has been a rare sight to see television shows set and filmed in Nottinghamshire - with even the BBC's 2006 Robin Hood being filmed in Hungary. But is that changing? Writer Nathan Foad tells the BBC how he brought his new sitcom Newark, Newark to his East Midlands home.

Fifteen years ago, writer and actor Nathan Foad says, his new sitcom Newark, Newark would not have been commissioned - for two reasons.

The first, he believes, is that its central relationship - between an outspoken young gay lad and his newly-divorced mum - would not have been viewed as having popular appeal.

The second is its setting - Foad's hometown of Newark - a regional market town which, he believes would have felt too remote to London-based media companies.

Image source, UKTV
Image caption,
Nathan says he was delighted with how Newark residents welcomed the cast and crew

But times have changed and Newark, Newark makes its debut on Monday on Gold.

Its heart-warming backchat and loveable lippiness were loosely based on Foad's own relationship with his mum which he describes as "funny, loving and complicated".

"We are best friends but we drive each other mad," he says.

"I grew up in Newark in the 1990s and 2000s, so I have taken a lot of artistic licence with the town and the characters.

"I was very nervous about filming in Newark.

"I didn't know how it was going to go down.

"But the town really embraced having this big, annoying crew everywhere.

"People were having us film in their houses and local shops and pubs. We had local people as extras.

"We filmed episode three at Newark College. We really tried to use as much of the town as possible."

Image source, UKTV
Image caption,
The cast is a mixture of familiar faces and newcomers

The sitcom tells the story of newly-divorced Maxine (played by Morgana Robinson) who is trying to adjust to the single life, despite the desperate overtures of her ex Terry (played by Gavin and Stacey's Mathew Horne).

At the same time, the couple's son Leslie (Jai Hollis) has to deal with the underwhelming response to his coming out, while there is a backdrop of constant interference from the family's grandmother (Coronation Street's Beverley Callard).

Foad said assembling the all-star cast was a "dream come true".

Image source, UKTV
Image caption,
Jai Hollis (right) plays teenager Leslie, who is desperate for a reaction to his big announcement

"People really responded to the script," he says.

"That helped us clinch the bigger names. It was so amazing to watch that come together.

"It's quite rare to find a cast with this much natural chemistry.

"Because of Covid, we had to do auditions over Zoom, so we took a massive punt."

Image source, UKTV
Image caption,
Nathan says he was impressed with how easily the cast adopted the Notts accent

Not only is the show Notts-set - it also comes with a convincing order of East Midlands accents.

Foad said everyone acquitted themselves admirably.

"We were so lucky we got Mathew Horne, who is from this area," he says.

"For those who weren't, they beautifully rose to the occasion.

"Morgana learned the accent in six days. It's a testament to what a perfectionist she is."

The famous names take their place alongside new faces, including leading actor Jai Hollis, who plays the lead role - a version of Foad when he himself was 16.

Image source, UKTV
Image caption,
Morgana Robinson and Mathew Horne play a divorced couple with wildly different aspirations

"This is his first TV job," says Foad. "He had done youth theatre and drama, but nothing like this before.

"It's a huge role to be carrying but he's amazing - his timing is unbelievable.

"We auditioned about 50 kids but I was aware I wanted to cast an authentically gay young person and he had the right comic timing.

"He's just like me at 16."

Foad, 29, describes himself as a "jobbing comedy writer" who won a scholarship to drama school before moving into scriptwriting.

He says he is both terrified and excited by the show's launch, one of his most personal projects to date.

Image source, UKTV
Image caption,
The young cast have amazing comic timing, says Nathan

"I didn't ask to be the face of Newark but it's also very special," he says.

"The East Midlands is such an underrepresented part of the country. There aren't the big production bases here.

"But really, people are saying they want to hear regional, working class voices on TV.

"In order to do that, you have to commission the work.

"That's what UKTV did. They never tried to ask us to make London look like Newark.

"We shot the entire thing in Newark, even the interiors, and I'm very grateful for that."

  • Newark, Newark airs from March 28-30 at 21:00 BST on Gold

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