How we made The Inbetweeners

‘They offered me a prosthetic testicle for the fashion show scene but I thought, what’s the point? I was hardly going to claw back any dignity’

Iain Morris, co-creator

I worked with Damon Beesley (co-creator) at Channel 4. We also lived together. We’d entertain each other playing PlayStation and telling stories of our youth, so we decided to scratch an itch and write a sitcom about being teenagers trapped in suburbia. Channel 4 commissioned a pilot – which ended up as Bunk Off, the second episode of the first series of The Inbetweeners. A lot of the things in that episode had happened to Damon. He did draw on a girl’s driveway. He did tell a child their parents would be obliterated in a nuclear disaster. Then Channel 4 said: “Why would anyone watch a bunch of teenagers on a Friday night?”

But E4 did a survey and found out that young adults wanted to watch themselves. That led to Skins. They also wanted a comedy, so Channel 4 took our script out of the drawer. We made a pilot that didn’t really work. Still, E4 were desperate and commissioned a series, but only if we totally recast. James Buckley had played Neil in the pilot, but off camera he was far more gregarious, so we convinced Channel 4 to let him play Jay, and cast Blake Harrison as Neil.

Watch a trailer for The Inbetweeners

I’d seen Greg Davies (Mr Gilbert) do standup in a tiny pub. He’d been a teacher for 13 years. We offered him the part on the spot. We’d seen Simon Bird (Will) and Joe Thomas (Simon) do their Edinburgh comedy show fresh out of uni, but we thought Simon was too camp and Joe was too odd so hadn’t cast them in the pilot. We auditioned hundreds of other Wills and Simons but no one seemed right. And, when they saw them, the producers at Channel 4 went, “Where have you been hiding these two?” because they were perfect. I maintain those four young men are the funniest male actors of their generation.

Much of the first series come up short time-wise, so we added scenes of them on the toilet. We based the voiceovers on Goodfellas, which is about 80% voiceover. Marsha Shandur, a DJ I knew, sourced all the relatively unknown indie bands for the soundtrack. We filmed in a new school in north-west London that had only been half filled so we had plenty of space. A lot of the actual schoolkids ended up as extras.

Many of the storylines were from my own past - Will losing his virginity to Charlotte Hinchcliffe happened almost word for word. I literally ended up planking on top of this girl until she said: “Don’t move your whole body, just move your hips.” And then: “Don’t tell anyone about this.” So I didn’t – I put it in the sitcom instead.

Joe Thomas, plays Simon Cooper

It was a bit weird playing a 17-year-old at 23, but we felt young because we were so new to television. For some reason Iain and Damon thought I was a soft touch and would be up for anything. The scene where I vomit over Carli’s little brother took about four hours. I felt sorry for the kid, because the best that was going to happen was he’d get hit in the face with some cold vegetable soup. They offered me a prosthetic testicle in series three [for a scene in which it pops out of Simon’s pants when modelling in a school fashion show]. But I thought: “What’s the point of that?” I was hardly going to claw back any dignity.

Revealing … the Series 3 fashion show episode, from left, Emily Atack, Joe Thomas, Simon Bird and Emily Head.
Revealing … the Series 3 fashion show episode, from left, Emily Atack, Joe Thomas, Simon Bird and Emily Head. Photograph: Channel 4 Picture Publicity

The atmosphere was quite giddy. It just felt like we were larking around. No one really watched the first series, but it caught the end of the DVD market and sold really well. I was living with Simon and remember receiving our royalty cheques and thinking: “Fucking hell, this’ll cover our rent for the year.”

People would say, “I watched your show” but then add, “because my mum works with your mum.” It took a while before I got properly heckled. Simon gets “Briefcase wanker” and “Bumder” and James gets “Bus wankers” and “Friend” but I didn’t really have any boss catchphrases, although a connoisseur’s choice is, “Where’s my fucking change?” from when the dinner lady is taking ages when I’m trying to chase after Carli.

I’ve certainly seen its influence. Today, a group of goofy teenagers is enough of a hook for a show. The only real thing that dates it is the lack of the total ubiquity of mobile phones. I’m still vain enough to like being asked about it. The only question I get bored of is whether we’re going to do any more. I’ve got that down to a boilerplate answer now.

Iain and Damon’s new sitcom The First Team is available on iPlayer. What’s In A Name? starring Joe Thomas restarts its nationwide theatre tour in 2021.

Contributor

Interviews by Rich Pelley

The GuardianTramp

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