Sandylands interview - writers Martin Collins and Alex Finch

What was the inspiration for the delightfully deranged Sandylands? We caught up with the creators to find out.

Sandylands interview - Martin Collins and Alex Finch (Writer

What's the inspiration behind Sandylands?

MARTIN: Sandylands started off as a sketch show about a seaside town where one day the sea went out and never returned. We used to write a lot of sketch comedy and we were writing stuff on the side for sitcoms as well. We always have this rule with our writing which is to keep things grounded in the idea that it could happen. Everything is inspired so much by a reality, but it shouldn't ever go into something too magical. Sometimes we find some of our writing a bit of a cheat because we're just writing people that we know and what we've enjoyed. But a lot of it is just taking notes and absorbing stuff. Also, a lot of the series is based on the canoe man (John Darwin) and we've kind of combined the world of stuff that we write along with the story of him and his wife. Alex bought a book about it.

ALEX: The wife's book, called Out of my Depth, was a great ghost-written masterpiece and showed the ridiculousness of their situation. Obviously, there was tragedy involved and we don't want to laugh at that, but the situation that they got themselves in was strangely comic for certain reasons.

MARTIN: Yeah, he's a normal man and when the normal man does something crazy it makes you think. It's just the thought of him going out to sea and then swimming back. I think he did pick up some slacks out of a bush that he'd planted. It's just a normal dude and then he's doing this thing and it just snowballed. And I think there's been times, within Sandylands, where people have actually gone "oooh is that pushing it a little too far?". But we've always had him as a reference point. They bought the house next door and smashed through behind a cabinet, so he could dart through and within 30 seconds he'd be out the house. There were all these crazy things, where they didn't tell the kids and stuff like that, it was quite big as well.

ALEX: It's a mad story.

MARTIN: He's managed to pin it for us as we've gone along, so it's been quite an incredible thing. Just mixing the slight loopiness of that with the characters of the seaside has been a perfect match and we've loved building a world like that.

How do you create such colourful characters?

ALEX: I think we always liked worlds and places, British places that are like microcosms of eccentricity.

MARTIN: Eccentricity is a big one for us.

ALEX: Yes, people that are like kings of a very small castle. There's a quirkiness to little England I suppose, and we always really liked tapping into those characters. Also, we always had lots of stories that we'd share, and friends would share about people. Everyone I think in the show is sort of based on something real.

MARTIN: There are some direct quotes from friends in Sandylands. For example, there's one where Tina talks about "red sky at night, shepherd's pie" and that is a saying from a friend of ours.

ALEX: I went to a B&B once where the owner wouldn't leave the room because he was showing me all the channels, all the way through for about 20 minutes and that was a real inspiration for Derek. We also went to Blackpool for a research weekend to look around and the owner of the B&B we stayed at tried to do magic tricks to us before we got out the room.

MARTIN: I think the seaside does something to people as well. We've got the opening image of Bob just in his trunks and I remember being on holiday in Margate, where we go quite often, and a guy being told to get out of a family restaurant because he was just in his trunks. He hadn't even thought about it because you're at the beach and he was like "oh yeah I'm just in me pants, sorry I didn't even think about it!"

What was it like filming in Weston-super-Mare?

MARTIN: We fell in love with it, didn't we?

ALEX: Yeah, it's one of those places that when I first saw it, I just saw the faded seaside town. But, once we'd stayed there a while, I appreciated it as a community and we just fell in love with the kind of tired majesty of it.

MARTIN: It's just quirk isn't it? I think London can get so small sometimes. You can find yourself getting in a bit of microcosm of people and it just blows your mind a bit really. I mean, Weston-super Mare has been sandblasted, literally. The buildings have taken a bit of a beating and so on, but it's the character there which is amazing and it's quite beautiful.

ALEX: The people there are lovely, and they were really nice to us.

How did you feel when you saw the final line up?

MARTIN: It's really amazing that so many people were so up for doing it and we're just so chuffed that they liked the scripts so much.

ALEX: I think it gave us confidence in the project, I mean we already had that to a degree, but it's a great endorsement when such amazing people want to get on that ride with you. Also, the young talent are so good! They had a big job of holding it all together and that was very impressive.

MARTIN: We didn't have to struggle to cast it in a lot of ways. As soon as we saw Natalie that was it. It was fantastic when Sanjeev said he wanted to do it. It was always this thing with Les that yes, he's done this thing, but you've always got to like him and Sanjeev's just such a lovely guy and so likeable, so that was such a spirit of that. Then we saw a random comedy video that Harriet had done, and we got her in because we thought "that's Tina". So it was an absolute ball really.

ALEX: Yeah and then just to watch David and Hugh on the day that they were both in was one of the greatest days of my life! It was great to watch them work.

MARTIN: This is our first big project and, as much as this has gone with such a stellar cast, it has been a privilege to write for them all. I think for us, we've written for a long time and we've always stayed really true to what we want to write and that's meant that it's possibly taken a bit longer than we'd hoped, or something along those lines. But the appreciation that we've had for the script has been great.

What do you hope audiences take away from Sandylands?

MARTIN: A stick of rock and a bag of chips!

ALEX: I think it's a place that you want to re-visit, they're characters that we want people to fall in love with. I think it's a very inclusive and warm show and I think that, although there is this crazy ride going on, you fall in love with the people in it and you just want to keep coming back.

MARTIN: It was really nice to get back in touch with that classic British seaside. I know that a lot of my friends are now going to places like Margate, which might be a bit more gentrified, but people are holidaying here again a bit more and there's some great traditions in these places. The eccentricity of the places really shows that there is no place like it and no one else does the seaside like the UK. I just want people to have blast while watching it as it's a bit of a rollercoaster of fun.

If you could sum up Sandylands in three words, what would they be?

MARTIN: Sun, sand and Scandal!