Actor Joe Gilgun brought his effervescent personality to an RTS early evening event devoted to the Sky One show he also helped to create in late January.
Brassic, a tale of Lancashire lads on the scam, is a madcap comedy with a sensitive side. The Guardian called it “a hilarious, warm, brutal melange”.
But it is not, as Gilgun was at pains to point out at a packed event, miserable: “Any show that represents the working classes is fucking miserable. Some of the happiest people I know are working class; some of the smartest lads I know are working class.”
“I was sick to death of us being depicted as long-suffering. Sure there’s a bit of suffering that goes on and some of it is hand to mouth, but that’s not to say we’re all fucking miserable. That’s a middle-class view of what it is to be working class.”
Brassic was created by Gilgun and Danny Brocklehurst, who wrote all but one episode of the first series. The latter, a journalist at the Manchester Evening News before he turned to penning drama, has written RTS award-winning dramas such as Clocking Off, Shameless and Come Home.
The first series of Brassic – with Gilgun playing the main character, Vinnie – aired last year to critical acclaim and brought Sky One its highest ratings for a comedy in almost a decade. Series two follows in the early part of this year.
“I’ve had a colourful past,” admitted Gilgun. He was a child actor on Coronation Street for a few years in the mid-1990s, but after his role was written out of the soap, he “went off the bloody rails and got up to all kind of shit for many years.” It was the actor’s experiences from this period in his life that inform Brassic.
Gilgun returned to acting a decade later, appearing in Emmerdale, Shane Meadows’ film This is England, E4 sci-fi comedy-drama Misfits and Pride. On the set of the award-winning movie he met the actor Dominic West, who plays Vinnie’s narcissistic doctor in Brassic.
West encouraged the film’s executive producer Livingstone to listen to Gilgun’s “crazy stories”. And, despite being hindered by serious dyslexia, Gilgun wrote them down “on acres of wallpaper”, recalled Livingstone.
When the executive producer read them, Gilgun remembered Livingstone’s reaction: “This is the ramblings of a fucking lunatic.”
The actor agreed: “It was the ramblings of a lunatic; we needed this bugger here [Brocklehurst] to [make sense of it].”
“Even though I was a fan of Joe from Misfits, a little bit of me thought, ‘Oh God, an actor with ideas,” recalled Brocklehurst. “We got on and I could see really clearly that the stories and ideas Joe had for the show were brilliant and funny.”
Sky One agreed and commissioned Livingstone’s company, Calamity Films, to make the show.
Gilgun’s dyslexia means he has struggled to read and write throughout his life. “I was made to feel bloody stupid and for years I believed that. Only in the last five or six years have I started to realise that I’m not.” he recalled. “But what I have got is bloody good ideas.”
Brocklehurst adds structure and writer’s polish to Gilgun’s ideas, which the actor said are like a “big, tangled ball of wool; my head doesn’t work in a linear way at all. I have the ideas but I can’t put them together.”
Brassic offers broad comedy, but also great sensitivity. “If it can make you cry and roar with laughter, then that’s a good spot to be in,” said Livingstone.
“The tears, the sadness,” added Gilgun “ground the madness of the show.
“We didn’t want to make it too heavy, but a lot of the positive feedback came off the back of the poignant moments.”
Vinnie, like Gilgun, has bipolar disorder. “We were worried at first about dealing with that in a comic environment, but as long as we’re truthful about it, we can be as funny as we like,” said Brocklehurst.
“I have serious mental health problems. I have these fucking meltdowns, like the shit you see on the [programme]. I get very frustrated and angry,” said Gilgun.
“I don’t finish a day at work and go home, and everything goes away. I am bipolar – that’s me. The medicine Vinnie is on, I’m on. The shit Vinnie does, that’s the man I would have become if it wasn’t for acting. [Brassic] is incredibly personal to me.
“I’m very passionate about it, particularly the mental health side.
“I knew my idea was a good one. I believed it would go on the TV. I’ve got other ideas – they will happen, absolutely they will. I believe in myself. For the first time in a lifetime I know my own worth – I’m not dumb and I want more.”
The RTS early evening event at the hClub London on 30 January was chaired by television journalist and broadcaster Emma Bullimore, and produced by the RTS, Sky and Premier Communications. A longer report will appear in the March issue of Television.
All photography by Paul Hampartsoumian