Alex Horne discovers that making a TV show can be family-friendly.
Filming Taskmaster is the most nine-to-five job I’ve had since 1996, when I spent a summer working on a potato farm, removing mouldy potatoes and toads from a potato conveyor belt. I would wholeheartedly recommend both jobs.
Four-fifths of the series is filmed in an unlikely cottage in West London. But I live outside the M25, so semi-insisted that the final fifth takes place near my house.
Today, we are starting at a location one mile from my kitchen, so I eat breakfast with my wife and three small boys before heading out the door in my suit like an actual father from 1976.
Taskmaster works like this: five comedians do their competitive best to accomplish a raft of ridiculous tasks set by me.
They attempt these things individually, only finding out how each other has done later in the studio, under the judgemental glare of my boss, Greg Davies.
Today, it’s Lolly Adefope’s turn and we meet for a pre-task breakfast at a conference centre next door to my kids’ primary school.
Lolly has no idea what’s in store so I leave her nibbling nervously and join the crew at a nearby farm to set up her first situation. I can’t reveal details in case her competitors are reading – but she might be interacting with animals so I meet a veterinary health and safety man who was on the set of Ben-Hur and Wonder Woman.
When Lolly has finished her mystery animal-related activity, she and I sit in the kitchen of the farmer and his wife, an excellent couple who usually turn Chesham residents’ apples into cider; it’s a surprisingly idyllic place to live. Outside, the crew set up something involving wellies.
By 11:00am we’ve moved to Chesham United Football Club. Again, it’s a location chosen principally because I know people who work there. My eldest son plays in its Under-8 team and it’s a proper family club, which has made Tom and me, and now the Taskmaster team, very welcome.
Unfortunately, it’s a particularly cold day in the Chilterns so Lolly doesn’t feel quite as comfortable as she tackles her next two tasks (which require a typewriter and a rubber duck, respectively).
At lunch, Andy the director and Andy the producer and I meet to talk about what’s next for the show, both here and abroad. Despite the surroundings (the home-side changing room and laundry area) this feels incredibly glamorous.
The Belgians and Swedes are making their own versions of Taskmaster, which is by far the best and most ridiculous thing to have happened in my career.
The afternoon is filled with a few more things that I can’t mention here. Hugh Dennis, Joe Lycett, Noel Fielding and Mel Giedroyc will all be doing the same challenges either side of Christmas so any hints might spoil the integrity of the show.
Despite being intensely silly, we take the competition seriously. The comics might cheat, but we can’t.
As darkness surprises us yet again by falling in the middle of the afternoon, we move into the bar for the final task of the day. This one involves me. I enjoy my subordinate role as Greg’s assistant/deputy life-coach but, when I have the chance to get slightly closer to centre stage, I do secretly enjoy it.
When Lolly leaves, I’m next out the door as the brilliant crew do the actual work of sorting everything out. It’s time for my day job: doing a gig with my band, The Horne Section, at the Colchester Arts Centre.
We’ve been sloppily mixing music and comedy for seven years now and seem to have found our audience. By 10:00pm we’ve led that audience in a genuinely exhausting Zumba routine, as well as a backwards conga. Home around midnight, I sleep well.
Taskmaster, Series 4, will be shown on UKTV’s Dave in April.