Hebburn baby Hebburn
Andrew Mickel17 October 2012
Neil Grainger tells us what to expect with BBC Two’s brave new comedy hope…
Both the BBC and Baby Cow seem to have thrown everything and the kitchen sink at publicising Hebburn ahead of its launch tomorrow on BBC Two.
The sitcom follows Chris Ramsay playing Jason Cook in a reversioned tale of his life in the apparently-a-real-place town of Hebburn, while Jason Cook plays Chris Ramsay to make sure everyone gets confused. Vic Reeves (listed under his real name Jim Moir) and Gina McKee are also in it. It could be literally quite good.
We had a quick chat with Neil Grainger, who's in the supporting cast as Gervaise, a pub singer who’s gunning for Jason’s sister in the show. It’s good to talk to Neil because he’s always full of borderline-luvvie enthusiasm for the projects he’s working on (we last heard from him for the Old Vic Comedy Festival). So you'd better hold on to your hats, there’s about to be quite a lot of manlove for Jason Cook and Chris Ramsay…
So how did you get involved in the show?
I originally went for the lead and I had never met Jason. He barely looked up when I read for the lead.
He then said, what about this part? And it turned into the best audition of my laugh. He just roared with laughter and got me to dress up in his old shirts, getting me in the red frilly one.
It ended up in front of a live studio audience and they went wild for it, and we thought, this could be something special.
I made a of a bit of a New Year’s Eve wish that I just wanted it to get commissioned. And in early January got a message from Jason saying it was happening.
We filmed on location in Hebburn and then did five weeks in Manchester at the Baby Cow studios, and it was just an incredible job. More than any other job I’ve ever done, it’s just so much fun to be around people like Chris Ramsey and Vic Reeves and Jason Cook, really funny guys.
Jason is a really, warm, great guy and he really wants this to succeed, and he works really hard to make people feel comfortable. But a lot of the people in it are folks who aren’t big names yet. Victoria Elliott, who’s going to be huge in my opinion, who plays the sister; Steffen Peddie and myself, it’s just nice. I read an article saying, where are all the new faces in sitcoms? Well, I think Hebburn is a prime example of new up-and-coming comedians who deserve a chance to shine.
On the tone of Hebburn, he’s very warm and family friendly, how did it up on BBC Two instead of One?
It was originally for BBC Three, actually. I think it’s got a bit of an edge to a prime-time BBC One sitcom. It’s got that bawdy northern humour to it. I saw a screener with my nephews and I realised about five minutes in that it’s probably not for kids. Not because it’s disgusting but because there’s some adult humour in it. I think it’s got a bit of an edge on, say Miranda. That’s brilliant, but this is a more post-watershed family audience.
It must be weird doing the plotlines that are literally based on Jason’s life.
Yeah - well, the characters are based on multiple people he’s met. Mine is based on about six or seven different people combined into one...
...have you met any of them?
No, but I’ve had them explained to me. But I think the only ones with tangible direct leads are the lead, which is Jason, his wife, and definitely the character of Ramsey, which Jason plays. So Chris is playing Jason and Jason is playing Chris. So they’re basically having a laugh and getting paid for it.
It must be weird for Chris. Being on prime-time TV with hair like his, he’s going to become a Heat dream idol...
Oh god. Even in the short time I’ve known him it’s gone mental. I saw him film Celebrity Juice the other week and he’s an actual celebrity now. His hair is going to get so much attention. I think he’s going to start doing hair adverts because Cheryl does. He’s just a legend and everything he touches turns to gold. He’s just a whirlwind and never stops.
And Vic Reeves is in it - but he’s Jim Moir for this, not Vic Reeves, right?
One thing I realised very early on with Jim is that not only is he a comedy genius but he watches his drama as well. I think this is the next step for him, like the BBC Four thing he did on Morecambe and Wise. I think he’s a brilliant actor and his timing is amazing. He can make the driest, most normal line very funny. It’s a refreshing part. I love Vic and Bob as much as anybody but I think he’s moved into a new field and he’s done it seamlessly.
And your part - you’re playing the sister’s wannabe boyfriend...
Yup, I’m Gervais, the pub singer in the local band. I have an on/off relationship with the daughter of the family. He’s kind of a cross between Englebert Humperdinck and Derren Brown, I guess.
Did you get Jason’s shirt for the filming?
No, unfortunately. It went AWOL shortly after the showcase, and no-one knows where it went. It was such a beautiful piece of material, but instead I have a nice shiny suit, and I grew some special facial hair as well. It can best be described as a goatee and a throatee. Part of the reason I want it to be recommissioned is I want to grow it again. I got some interesting looks from friends and family, and my girlfriend had to reestablish her love for me. It was a bit weird.
What are your expectations after Thursday?
Everyone in it is immensely proud of it, and something I’ve never experienced on something I’ve worked with before is we all became such good friends and we’ve looked forward to this happening for so long, that it just couldn’t happen to nicer people. The whole team has just been fabulous, and it should make the whole of the North East proud, hopefully.
Hebburn is on BBC Two tomorrow.
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