Men Behaving Badly creator Simon Nye on what brought him to Worthing
PUBLISHED: 12:33 18 March 2019 | UPDATED: 12:33 18 March 2019
Jim Holden www.jimholden.co.uk 07590 683036
It's 20 years since Men Behaving Badly descended on Worthing. Creator Simon Nye remembers what brought him back home
It may not have been Acapulco or the Seychelles, but Worthing felt like a perfect place for writer Simon Nye to bring the cast of 1990s sitcom Men Behaving Badly for their penultimate episode Gary in Love in 1998. “I used to go to Worthing quite a lot to see my grandmother,” says Simon, who was born in Burgess Hill and grew up in Henfield. “It felt like a nicely English, slightly sleepy place – the kind of place that Gary in his rather torpid middle management job would be sent to rather than the fleshpots of London or Manchester.”
So Gary, played by Martin Clunes, Caroline Quentin’s Dorothy, Leslie Ash’s Deborah and Neil Morrissey’s hapless Tony head to the Groyne View Hotel for the annual International Security Equipment and Services Exhibition – aka ISECESEX.
Worthing Dome Cinema makes an appearance in the background as the “bat-eared mischief maker and drunken boy wonder” builds a car from scrap found on the beach. The cinema will host Simon in March 2019 as part of Badlyfest, which marks the 20th anniversary and will culminate in a screening of Gary in Love. Speaking from the Dome’s Vintage Tea Rooms Simon admits to personal reasons for setting the episode in Worthing. “It was a nice way of visiting my family,” he says, adding that his mother still lives in Henfield. During the episode Gary and Tony go on a drunken spree, stealing a giant fish from the roof of the Pavilion Theatre. While their girlfriends spend hours on a specially constructed crazy golf course, Gary falls for one of his fellow delegates, despite the fact he and Dorothy are trying for a baby. “In Worthing I wanted to show those awful things that do plague us in real life,” says Simon, 60, who is married and has four children.
“In Gary’s case you want to settle down and commit to your lovely girlfriend – but that’s the moment where you feel you need to break out. With a sitcom you’ve got to be careful. The first rule is to be funny. It’s only when you realise people really love these characters, and sort of feel for them, that you can indulge yourself with a story where you can feel people say: ‘Don’t do that, don’t destroy your so-called life by not seeing what’s going on.’”
Men Behaving Badly was a phenomenon in 1990s Britain – coinciding with the rise of the lager-fuelled lad culture. Over six years its two protagonists Gary and Tony spent hours on their ratty sofa swapping beer-inspired philosophy. “I’m closer to Gary than Tony,” says Simon now.
“I always really wanted to put on a cardigan, as Gary did in one episode, rather than go out raving. As a student I had my drinking years. I remember what it’s like to talk nonsense on a sofa.”
The series started life as a novel published by Penguin Books and picked up by producer Beryl Vertue. “I remember being at dinner parties and there was quite a lot of debate about sexual politics,” says Simon. “Even as a Guardian reader and card-carrying liberal I could see there was a lot of the male story that was not being told. The book had all the failings of a debut writer – but it had a lot of dialogue in it. I was crying out for a TV series in my own naïve way.”
After a false start – which saw Gary teamed up with Harry Enfield’s downbeat Dermot for the first ITV series – Simon created the exuberant puppy-like Tony as Gary’s sidekick and Men Behaving Badly took off. “The series never really worked with Harry,” admits Simon. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I was lucky enough to have a second chance with Neil who was a better match.
“I didn’t have the experience to know this wasn’t the normal way to do things. I was just happy to have a script to write.”
Simon did have to be prompted initially to make sure the girls got a look in too. “I was told by Caroline to write her more jokes,” confesses Simon. “I was so focused on the men, there was a risk of Dorothy turning into the classic girlfriend part.”
Men Behaving Badly launched Simon’s writing career: “When I come up with another project people always think that it could be another massive hit. They give me the benefit of the doubt.” But his own life in the 1990s was very different from Gary and Tony’s – he was starting a family and living a very domestic life. He had moved to London to go to university and decided to stay in the city, having spent his schooldays shuttling between Henfield and Collyer’s School in Horsham on the 117 bus. “I always knew I was going to London and break with my past,” he says. “I envied the people who grew up in London and were streetwise and knew what they were doing. I missed out on the instinctive knowledge of London where most shows are set. But I certainly don’t think of myself as a country boy.”
Sussex inspired his 1998 comedy How Do You Want Me? It starred Dylan Moran as city-dweller Ian and Charlotte Coleman as country girl Lisa who moved to the rural village of Snowle to be with Lisa’s extended family. “I wanted to write a love letter to the countryside and showing what it was like through the eyes of an outsider,” says Simon.
“Unfortunately the show ended up being a bit of a dystopian picture of country life, with a horrible dictator played by Frank Finlay suggesting that Sussex is full of patrician bullies!
“I hope people got a sense of how country folk are: our love of horses and knowledge of which tree is which.”
That sense of wonder at nature is part of Simon’s reimagining of Gerald Durrell’s Corfu Trilogy on ITV. The Durrells sees the focus taken off budding naturalist Gerald and instead centres on his mother Louisa, played by Keeley Hawes. The series has just finished filming its fourth and final outing, which is due to air later this year.
“I did an adaption of My Family And Other Animals for the BBC in 2004 and I really enjoyed it,” says Simon, referring to the first book in the triology. “When producers came to me suggesting an ITV series I knew it was a different animal. There are three books to draw on and the real lives of the Durrell family which is full of stuff which isn’t in the books. You certainly can’t take Gerald’s word for anything – he’s a fabulous liar and I make things up as well. Their lives were dramatic, and long enough for lots of incident.
The upcoming fourth series will reflect the four years the family spent in Corfu. “There’s a nice completeness there,” says Simon. “The actors really are a family – and it does help that I’m one of four children, and I have four children. If I’m ever stuck for something to say I raid my memory banks for arguments that I, or the children, have had. It’s such a joy-filled project and the filming in Corfu makes it feel really special.”
There is the possibility of doing something based on their later lives – particularly when the family came back together in 1947. But for now Simon is focusing on another dysfunctional family – The Mitfords, in an adaptation of Jessica Fellowes’ novel The Mitford Murders. And he is writing a one-off piece about Paul McCartney writing Yesterday for Sky Arts’ Urban Myths strand, following a similar piece he wrote about the Sex Pistols’ infamous clash with presenter Bill Grundy.
Last year he set up production company Genial Productions with former head of Tiger Aspect Sophie Clarke-Jervoise. “I will be doing a bit of development rather than spending every day on my own trying to grind out scripts,” he says. “It will be a chance of a different perspective on our business. It is a golden age – there are a lot of amazing dramas out there and a lot of people who were devoted to film now moving into television. I read that one of the reasons people don’t get enough sleep is because of box sets!”
Badlyfest, a celebration of all things to do with Men Behaving Badly, is at The Dome Cinema in Marine Parade, Worthing on Tuesday 26 March 2019 from 8pm. There will be a screening of Gary In Love, alongside an onstage Q and A with Simon and details of a walking tour taking in the filming locations by All-Inclusive History. For more details call 07504 863867 or buy tickets from domeonline.co.uk
My favourite Sussex
“As a child I went to Beech Hurst Gardens, near Haywards Heath, and would go on the little steam train.
“I grew up in Henfield. It’s not Sussex’s prettiest village, but it has a lovely sense of community. My parents were very involved in the church and amateur dramatics – my mother [Sheila] won an award for directing a production of Brighton Beach Memoirsin Henfield last year.
“My mother was an actress and was in rep at the Connaught Theatre in Worthing. She talks about the people she worked with in rep, in the same way I now talk about giving Catherine Tate her first job. I nearly took a job in the box office in Worthing, but I wasn’t ready to give up London.
“I remember going to pantomimes. It was my first sign that comedy was a fabulous place to be.
“As a 13-year-old I used to go to Albion games at the Goldstone Ground in Hove. Following football is like the best soap opera really.”
• Sussex celebrities share what they love most about the county - Some of Sussex’s best known personalities have revealed in the magazine what they most love about the county. Here, we compile their stories, favourite restaurants, pubs, shops, views and places to visit