From Ghosts to aliens: Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond discuss new UKTV comedy We Are Not Alone

From Ghosts to aliens: Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond discuss new UKTV comedy We Are Not Alone

By Stuart Kemp,
Wednesday, 14th December 2022
We Are Not Alone: Laurence Rickard, Lolly Adefope and Ben Willbond at We Are Not Alone screening and Q&A
We Are Not Alone: Laurence Rickard, Lolly Adefope and Ben Willbond (Credit: RTS/Paul Hampartsoumian)
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Stuart Kemp watches aliens conquer Earth in UKTV’s feature-length comedy We Are Not Alone. Incompetently.

Writers and stars Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond of Ghosts and Horrible Histories fame took part in an RTS preview and Q&A for their latest comedy, We Are Not Alone. In the November ­session, they touched on the joy of creative freedom, resisting the temptation to cast themselves in plum roles, and shooting during the pandemic.

Set six weeks after Gu’un aliens have invaded and conquered Earth, We Are Not Alone portrays the culture clash between humankind and its new extraterrestrial masters, who are trying to make sense of a planet so confusing and idiotic that its inhabitants can’t even agree on which side of the road to drive.

Declan Baxter stars as hapless Clitheroe resident Stewart tasked by aliens Trater (Vicki Pepperdine), Gordan (Mike Wozniak) and Greggs (Joe Thomas) with ersuading humankind to rub along with their new masters – yet secretly helping a growing human resistance movement. And there is love and grief, too.

Rickard and Willbond were delighted and surprised in equal measure when their script for a 30-minute sitcom came back from UKTV’s head of scripted, Pete Thornton, with the message that the broadcaster wanted more. They were given total creative freedom to explore and write.

“To have something where someone says, ‘We love the thing you did with your freedom, would you like some more freedom,’ is unusual for writers,” said Rickard.

Penning a 90-minute story is a whole different ballgame in terms of structure, Willbond told the audience, after a screening of the first 60 minutes of an hour-and-a-half comedy special that aired on Dave at the end of November.

The post-screening Q&A was hosted by stand-up comedian and actor Lolly Adefope, best known as Kitty, the spectre of a Georgian noblewoman in BBC One comedy Ghosts.

With tongue firmly in cheek, she wondered aloud if the writers had ever created a 90-minute project before. (Adefope missed out on a part in their well-reviewed feature-length family comedy about Shakespeare’s formative years, Bill.) She moved on quickly amid gales of laughter.

The duo described how We Are Not Alone was co-written via Zoom – normally, Willbond would travel to Brighton to work with Rickard – before a fraught, Covid-hit shoot. “The way we’d write together changed because of the whole pandemic thing,” said Rickard. “He’d sit opposite me in my office in Brighton and we’d get nothing done because I’d just make faces all the time. We switched to Zoom and it was much more productive.”

He and Willbond said a lot of credit had to go to director Fergal Costello. “There were days where we had to stop and rejig the schedule to work around people’s availability, because people were going down with Covid. But no one felt like it was a toil,” Rickard added.

Casting was a relatively long process. Willbond explained the hard part was getting people in to read who hadn’t worked together before and getting them working together quickly.

They cast themselves as guards. “It wasn’t our acting project,” said Willbond. “We wanted to write it and exec produce it. But we couldn’t resist popping up in a little cameo.”

Commissioned by Thornton and ordered by Dave channel director Cherie Cunningham, the comedy feature was produced by Philip Leach (The Bay). The executive producers, under the production banner of Big Talk, were Kenton Allen, Matthew Justice and Victoria Grew.

Thornton said that if the 90-minute special played well with audiences and critics, UKTV would look to turn it into a series. Judging by the audience guffaws, there will be nothing alien about its prospects of a return.

RTS Futures and UKTV hosted a preview of We Are Not Alone and an exclusive Q&A with writers and stars Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond at the Curzon Hoxton in London on 15 November.

Listen to the event in full on The RTS Podcast on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.