Entertainment

The Makers of 'This Country' on Goodbyes – and When to End a Sitcom

We spoke to the show's creators, Daisy May and Charlie Cooper, about why it feels right to finish their hit series rather than stray from its roots.
February 11, 2020, 6:00am
This Country BBC series three interview Charlie Daisy May Cooper
Charlie Cooper, left; and Daisy May, right. Photo by Jack Barnes for BBC

Growing up in the countryside comes with its own set of challenges. There’s the boredom, the loneliness, and the totally unreliable bus service (note: not a plural) turning what should be a half-hour journey into a 90-minute trek.

Siblings Daisy May and Charlie Cooper know that struggle well, from spending their childhood and formative years in Cirencester, Gloucestershire. And so the pair draped BBC Three mockumentary sitcom This Country around the contours of their experiences. Since its 2017 debut, the show has earned the brother and sister two BAFTAS, a loyal fanbase and a taste of runaway success. Sadly, it's also about to leave us. When I meet the siblings in Circenester, ahead of a screening of their new, third series, Charlie tells me "We sort of knew writing series two that the third series would probably be the last."

For the uninitiated, This Country follows Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe, two twenty-something layabout cousins stuck in their tiny Cotswold village. Like many countryside suburbs, life is pretty monotonous. There's a lack of young people. Plus, the list of "fun" things doesn't extend much further than terrorising neighbours or taking advantage of the kindness of the village vicar. The show is specific enough in its experiences to strike a chord with anyone who lives in the countryside, but open and accessible too. If you've been bored, young and broke, you'll find humour in the sibling's mundane existence.

I spoke to the duo about saying goodbye to the show that made them stars and coming home to roost in the town you hated as a teen.

This Country series 3

Photo by Jack Barnes for BBC

VICE: Congrats on the new series, it’s great. You’ve been really embraced by the people of the Cotswolds, where it's filmed.
Charlie Cooper: People are so accommodating. We film more on location so all the houses are houses people live in. I don't know where they go for five weeks. We invade the village and we still get treated like kings.

Daisy May Cooper: When people come over and say how much they love the show and that they recognise places from where they grew up, it’s always so brilliant to hear. We've got a lot of love from the locals.

There’s something about growing up in the countryside that speaks to loneliness. Watching the show is kind of an antidote to that. I grew up in a small village like Kerry and Kurtan’s and you feel like you're the only person going through those feelings. Then you watch This Country and it’s like, 'Oh my god, everyone else feels the same way I felt.'
Charlie: That's comedy in general, isn't it? The best comedies or the best lines are always someone saying something that you felt but had no idea other people felt the same.

I was surprised to see so many obscure references to countryside stuff, like the scarecrow competitions. Did you ever feel swayed to make the humour more general?
Daisy May: We made the mistake of doing a pilot before where we tried to make the comedy really broad so that everybody would get it. There was that fear that people from the cities might not get it, but I think that was totally the wrong attitude to have. The more specific you are, the more people it resonates with. Everything, I mean everything, is drawn from our life experiences.

Charlie: You just have to write what you know. We spent our whole summer getting local papers and circling all the events. Duck races, fetes, tombolas, open gardens. All fucking shite.

Daisy May: But it becomes your world, doesn't it, when you're growing up in a small place. It's such a massive thing if Woolworths shuts down and is taken over by Holland and Barrett because you don't have any experience being out in the bigger world.

This Country series 3

Photo by Jack Barnes for BBC

How do you avoid punching down in your writing so that you’re not actually mocking the people who live here?
Daisy May: Honestly, the characters are based so much on ourselves anyway, we can't really get done for taking the piss out of ourselves. Everything comes from a place of love. We're not mocking it, because we still live here and we love it here. It's done with affection.

The upcoming third series is going to be the last one. Did you always want a three series arc for the show?
Charlie: We sort of knew writing series two that the third series would probably be the last. Just because I mean, trying to sustain a programme and trying to keep that interesting is difficult. We want to keep the standard up before it gets shit. All our favourite shows have had two seasons, three seasons.

Daisy May: Growing up, we loved The Royle Family. Caroline Aherne, she was just incredible. The Office, obviously we were so inspired by that, and we had Brass Eye on VHS which we used to watch when we were like ten and had watched The Aristocats for the 40th time. They all knew when to end. They didn’t overdo it.

The death of Michael Sleggs (who played Slugs, and passed away last July) must have had a huge impact on you and the show. The new series opens with a really lovely tribute episode to him. Did you know you wanted to honour him in that way?
Daisy May: Yeah. You have to address it, otherwise it's just weird. And it was a really lovely way of us being able to do it.

Charlie: We were always truthful to that character. All of the characters are not far from the people who play them and we were truthful about his illness so it made sense.

Daisy May: It's weird because I've cried in so many interviews talking about him, but it's been a bit like therapy really, being able to talk about him. It's been a really nice way of celebrating who he was and I think we've done the episode in a good way. I think it's not mawkish but it's funny and it's touching. His family have all seen it and loved it. His funeral was absolutely the most hilarious funeral I have ever been to. They started off, because he was such a Muppet Christmas Carol fan, by singing “A Thankful Heart". Brilliant.

This Country series 3

Photo by Ian Weldon for BBC

It must have been weird going back on set while still dealing with that loss.
Daisy May: It was really hard because we hadn't had time to grieve. It was so quick – I think he passed away three weeks before we had to go [back to filming]. He was desperate to be in the third series, but then he passed away and you just felt this massive empty void.

Charlie: I think his death played a big part in deciding to end the show after three series. Losing Michael was really difficult, so the filming wasn't the same and it felt like something was missing. It feels like the natural end.

Will fans be happy with the way the show finishes? Is there some kind of conclusion to the story so far?
Daisy May: I think there is a sort of conclusion. It's different. We say the first series is more about Kurtan, the second series more about Kerry, and this series focuses more on the vicar. You can't change the characters too much because otherwise you lose the comedy of it, but they have grown a little bit emotionally.

This Country series 3

Photo by Ian Weldon for BBC

Do you think Kerry and Kurtan will ever leave the village?
Both: Never.

Charlie: We thought about an episode where they go away. But it doesn’t excite me, the thought of them leaving. You want them doomed there for all time. It’s like The Inbetweeners Movie. You want to see them in the school or it doesn’t work.

Sitcoms often go a bit off the rails if they stray from what they know.
Charlie: People who love certain comedy shows don't want the world to change too much or they get upset. I definitely do. Watching Only Fools and Horses, when they became millionaires, suddenly it wasn't the same show. It was really annoying, in a way. They've achieved everything they want to achieve, now there's no struggle, no conflict. Peep Show's another great example, when Mark finally gets with Sophie. He marries her and it's something he's wanted all his time and then it actually happens and it's really depressing.

How would your younger selves feel about the fact that you still live in the countryside?
Charlie: Growing up, late teens early twenties, I wanted to be anywhere else but the Cotswolds. If someone told me I'd still be here in ten years I'd probably have killed myself. But I think doing the show was sort of like therapy in a way. After it came out, I sort of fell in love with this place again and I was quite content living here. It was cathartic.

Daisy May: I went to London for drama school but I hated it. I just know that this is my home and I love it. I know what I like and I'm staying here.

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BBC Three’s 'This Country' starts on Monday the 17th of February, available from 7PM on iPlayer and aired at 10.35PM on BBC One.