“Loads has happened since you’ve last been here,” says Kurtan Mucklowe as he welcomes the cameras back for the second series of BBC Three’s hit mockumentary This Country.
It’s been a hectic series for the show’s stars, cousins Kerry and Kurtan, played by Daisy May and Charlie Cooper. There’s been fishing, tadpoles spawned in the pond, there was an incident with some aggressive sheep… A busy six weeks in the Cotswold town the pair call home – or rather it hasn’t. And that’s sort of the point.
“We did a pilot a few years ago and it was set in Cirencester, [but] it’s too big, there was too much for them to do,” says Charlie Cooper, one half of the show's brother-sister writing duo . “If you set it in a smaller village, it’s suffocating. It’s isolating for the characters.”
The show captures the experiences the siblings had growing up. “It’s part of the world that hasn’t really been touched upon,” believes Cooper. “I think everyone has that childhood experience of being bored and having to make your own entertainment.”
That small-town suffocation is key to the show. “Kerry and Kurtan are the underclass,” Cooper explains. “They’ve got so many good qualities but they’re so uninspired. They’re the product of a not-very-good upbringing and the fact that they live in a rural place with no opportunities.”
The best comedies are those which combine the jokes with an emotional honesty and rawness that makes the audience love the characters – even when they might not seem that lovable. “Comedy and tragedy sort of go hand-in-hand,” he explains. “The best comedies that’ve ever been, like Steptoe and Only Fools, they have such warmth to them because these characters are flawed but they come from a truthful place.”
That truthfulness has spared the show from accusations of stereotyping, and the pair have been very careful to ensure that the audience is not laughing at the characters, but laughing with them.
“That was a huge thing [for us] when we were writing it. You want the audience to be on their side and don’t want it to look like it’s finger pointing and - I hate the word ‘chav’ – but it’s sort of chav-baiting,” says Cooper. It’s a trap that others have fallen into, he believes. “Vicky Pollard [from Little Britain] is a good example of a character that’s two dimensional and a stereotype. [We’re] trying to stay away from that [by] creating 3D characters that have depth.”
The success of the show comes down to their relationship. Early drafts of the series saw Kerry team up with a character (Dale), and the pair would eventually fall in love. “We developed that for like two years, and it got to the point where [the relationship] got in the way of the comedy.” Neither could they find anyone with the right chemistry to play the part, so they rewrote the character, and Cooper stepped into the breach as Kurtan.
“The idea of standing up in front of people and talking was something I could never imagine,” he reflects. “Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, if I lived my life again, I would never have done anything like this.”
He credits his sister with giving him the confidence to take a lead role in the show, however for the pair of them, the support of their parents was key. After Cooper dropped out of university and Daisy had come to the end of her time at RADA, their parents allowed them to live at home, despite not being well off. “They’re massive believers in pursuing your dreams, that sort of thing, especially creative things.”
Even when money was particularly tight, the family worked hard to support Daisy’s acting career. Cooper recalls his sister using the family’s last £9 to get the bus to London for an audition. “We had that belief that – especially since Daisy is so talented – that we’d get there eventually. [However] that £9 probably took food out of my mouth,” he laughs. “But it was worth it in the end.”
Daisy May and Charlie Cooper won the Scripted Comedy, Writer - Comedy and Comedy Performance Awards at the RTS Programme Awards 2018 in partnership with Audio Network. For more on the awards, click here.