What made you so eager to be involved in Sandylands?
It was so funny. When you get sent a comedy script, your heart often sinks. You think, "I bet this isn't going to be funny." But this was immediately engrossing. It had great roles with very distinctive characters and a very engaging story. That's what all the best TV has. It makes you want to keep watching. You want audiences to be thinking, "What happens next?" It was a terrific read.
How would you describe the tone of Sandylands?
It has a particular tone, which I really enjoy. It's a mixture of reality, like Gavin and Stacey, and heightened surrealism. The characters are well drawn. People talk as they do in real life, but it also has this heightened tone, and the seaside setting helps with that.
Talk us through your character.
Derek is an over officious and intrusive owner of a B&B. He has very little sense of irony and virtually no guests. His guesthouse is frozen in time. He's a nosy neighbour and a coward, ultimately. He is one of those men of a certain generation - who are thankfully now dying out - who regard their wife as some sort of servant. I witness that sometimes - "Get me this." He goes round inspecting the buffet that his wife has laid on for Les' funeral, and you think, "Rather than complaining, you could have helped!" He's basically lost in time. He's been really fun to play.
We heard you were rather fond of Derek's hose...?
He doesn't have a gun, so instead he has a hose like a gun, which you can depress and squirt at people. I had great fun using it. It's the wrong thing to give to someone like me who is easily bored and can't help themselves. I wasn't squirting the other actors, but I was really tempted to spray passing cars. I don't have one at home, so I was very excited that I finally had one. It's like when you see a sit-down lawnmower and you think, "Why don't I have one of those?"
Have you enjoyed working with Sophie Thompson, who plays Derek's wife, Jeannie?
Absolutely. She's a scream. She's a lot of fun on set. When you're trying to be funny, it's very nice to work with someone who's got a great sense of humour. As Barry Humphries once said, you have to feel funny to be funny. If you're tense, sometimes the comedy can drain out of you. But if you're around people who are fun, that's a great thing. You start to feel funny and that allows you to go for it. It also really helps if you get on with your colleagues, especially if they're playing your wife! You're with them 12 hours a day!
What has your relationship been like with the writers of Sandylands, Martin Collins and Alex Finch?
It's been great. Writing is a huge pressure, but Martin and Alex have not been precious at all. Some writers complain to you, "You do know there is a comma there, don't you?" But Martin and Alex have been very collaborative and excited about the project. That's very nice to see because this is their first big thing. The fact that it has great people in it and it's really happening has made them very happy. That's been lovely to watch.
What do you hope that audiences take away from Sandylands?
I just hope they have a really good laugh. It has a lot of gags. We're not trying to push it in the direction of drama. It has characters you care about, but it has silly jokes as well. I call it meat and potatoes comedy. It's actually funny. Comedy can take many different forms. I like lots of different types of comedy from the bittersweet to the kind that might make you cry. But I also love things like this, which is just unapologetically funny.
How would you characterise the town of Sandylands?
Like Derek, it is lost in time. Seaside towns are often like that - they just stop at their peak. If that was in 1975, they get stuck in that year forever.
What was it like filming on location in Weston-super-Mare?
It was great. The cast were all lovely, and we had a very happy time together. It's a really good thing when you're away. At the end of every day, you meet and go for something to eat together. It's nice not having the pressure of having to dash off somewhere else that you sometimes have in London. If you're filming on location somewhere, it doesn't matter. You are just very happy to be there.