The End Is Ni9h: Saying goodbye to Inside No. 9

The End Is Ni9h: Saying goodbye to Inside No. 9

Thursday, 4th July 2024
Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton sit in an old library room, both in late 19th century suits
Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton dress to impress (credit: BBC)
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An RTS audience and special guests gather for the final bow of the cult macabre comedy Inside No. 9.

In a packed cinema in London’s Leicester Square, devoted fans gathered to bid an emotional farewell to one of the most original and inventive British comedies of recent years.

After nine stellar series, the RTS-award winning Inside No. 9 went out in style, as RTS London hosted a screening of the finale alongside creators Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith.

Among those in attendance were a troupe of former Inside No. 9 stars: Katherine Parkinson, Tim Key, Sian Gibson, Amanda Abbington, Jason Watkins, Monica Dolan and Matthew Kelly to name a few… for reasons that would soon become clear.

In their typically macabre way, Pemberton and Shearsmith compared the event to attending their own funeral. “It’s like we’re being embalmed live,” said Shearsmith.   

With questions from host and Heat Entertainment Director Boyd Hilton, the comedy duo reflected on 10 years of their genre-defying television genius.

Like many iconic British shows that preceded it, Inside No. 9’s genesis can be traced back to belt tightening at the BBC. Pemberton and Shearsmith wanted to make a new series of their ambitious show Psychoville but, with the comedy department strapped for cash, producer Jon Plowman suggested an episode set in one room and featuring just three characters.  

“We baulked at the idea but, once we thought about it, we loved having those constraints to work with. Not going outside of the room, and thinking: how do we move this story on? How do we keep it fresh?”, said Pemberton.   

And so Inside No. 9 was born. From train carriages to wardrobes, police cars to referees’ changing rooms, the series delighted in finding new ways to tell stories within a confined space. Inspired by classic TV anthologies such as Tales of the Unexpected, the dark comedy specialised in horror-inducing twists.  

Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton sit with Boyd Hilton, the three of them laughing, with Hilton holding a mic up to his mouth
Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton and Boyd Hilton (credit: Ruth Roxanne Board/Plank PR)

“That’s always the biggest joke at the end of something like ‘The Trolley Problem’. The BBC Comedy credit comes up at the end, and you’ve just seen an immolated man and a child buried alive,” Pemberton said, referring to a particularly grisly episode in the final series.

“It was exciting. Each week a clean slate, and you can have great highs and people can all die at the end and then you can start again next week,” Shearsmith adds.

The anthology format enabled the duo to do whatever experimentation took their fancy within 30 minutes. Episodes ranged from a Shakespearean comedy written entirely in iambic pentameter in Zanzibar to a burglary heist carried out almost entirely in silence in ‘A Quiet Night In’.

“What I always liked about it was it was hugely risky. You didn’t know what you were going to get. And so, we just went with it,” said executive producer Jon Plowman.   

The series delighted in wrong-footing its audience. In the 2018 Halloween special, ‘Dead Line’, the pair pulled a stunt so convincing that a fifth of viewers turned off mid-episode.

The show, broadcast live on BBC Two, was pegged as a graveyard thriller set at the supposedly haunted Granada Studios. The pair had carried out an elaborate hoax, including misleading the media with fake press packs in the run-up to transmission. They even got an unwitting Gabby Logan on The One Show to ask them a seeded question on whether they believed in ghosts.

Part-way through the episode, a BBC Two “transmission breakdown” alert deceived audiences into thinking the live show was experiencing technical difficulties. What followed was a mosaic of archive footage, fixed cameras and CCTV that descended into gory horror.

The audience was utterly dumbfounded. “We were getting messages saying, ‘So sorry it’s gone wrong!’ We were thinking, great, we got you,” Shearsmith grinned. “Kudos to the BBC for letting us do it. It’s such a risk,” Pemberton added.

“We had to tell so many lies to get that made,” Pemberton said. “They gave us the freedom to do that and now it’s so rare, and we’re so grateful to the BBC.”

As the series progressed, British actors were champing at the bit to be cast in Inside No. 9. “We’d get people telling us that they’d love to be in it, and we’d get people writing to Tracey [Gillham, casting director] and asking, ‘Is there anything for me?’” Shearsmith recalled.

Despite this, the pair never wrote scripts for specific actors – with one exception, which turned out to be a standout episode.

The emotionally devastating masterpiece, ‘The 12 Days of Christine’ starring Sheridan Smith, is viewed by fans and critics alike as Inside No. 9’s pièce de resistance. From relationships to childbirth to grief, the episode told the story of Christine’s life through a day of each month of the year. An astonishing feat of dramatic storytelling, the episode ended with a heartbreaking sucker punch of a twist.

“It was sort of smuggled in, in comedy, but it was something you would get in any drama. You felt like you really lived a life with [Christine] and you cared about her,” Shearsmith said.

“I think it worked because people were not expecting that of us, and it became an absolute touchstone for people. The reaction to it was jaw-dropping. People were really moved by it,” he adds.

“Sheridan was incredible in that role. Filming that last scene, there was a tension in the air and there was a sense that we had something special,” Pemberton said. “When we first saw the edits, I remember two things. I remember everyone tearing up, and Jon Plowman going, ‘You can’t put that music on the end. It’s so mawkish!’”

The song, ‘Time to Say Goodbye’ by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman, would receive another airing in the season finale, along with a host of references to previous episodes, much to the delight of fans who have followed the show for a decade.

The episode, set in the toilets of a fictional Inside No. 9 wrap party, brought back more than 55 former cast members, including the previously mentioned actors attending the screening. “It is a love letter. Every line is an echo of something,” Shearsmith said. 

With no story thread to effectively conclude the anthology, the finale – in which the duo played themselves arguing what do next after Inside No. 9 – allowed the show to have a proper goodbye. “We were worried that it might have been slightly self-indulgent… we were worried about the weight of expectation,” said Pemberton.

“When we saw that it just had such an amazing quality to it and such a warmth, how could we not finish with that? It’s a perfect sign off.”

With a West End stage show of Inside No. 9 in the works, the pair are taking a moment to admire the fruits of their labour.

“It’s just been such an amazing achievement and we’re just so pleased to have had the opportunity and so proud of what we’ve been able to do,” said Pemberton.

He added, with characteristic black humour: “We need to let this all sink in and, you know… let it die its death.”

‘Inside No 9: The End Is Ni9h’ was an RTS London Centre event held at the Vue West End cinema in London on 12 June. The producers were Phil Barnes, Susan Collins, Terry Marsh and Adam Tandy.