Archive for March, 2015

Danny and the Human Zoo

Image: Dudley News

With news of a TV series commission on Lenny Henry comedy Rudy’s Rare Records not yet forthcoming, it appears that his semi-autobiographical drama Danny and the Human Zoo might jump ahead of it in the television production queue.

It was announced in February 2014 that Lenny Henry had written a one-off drama based on his own teenage years in 1970s Dudley, where he grew up with his Jamaican family.

StudioCanal describe the series with the tagline ‘Life in comedy isn’t always so Black & White‘.

A heart-warming, comic, single drama, loosely inspired by actor and comedian Lenny Henry’s life as a working-class teenager in 1970s Dudley.

The story centers round Danny Fearon, a talented impressionist and his working class Jamaican family. When Danny wins a talent competition at the local club, he soon finds himself working the comedy circuit, eventually hitting the big time on TV, an unheard-of achievement for a young black boy. Danny has it all – fame, fortune and the girl of his dreams.

But Danny’s new life isn’t all it seems. Exploited by an unscrupulous agent, Danny’s success drives a wedge between him and his family. Having made his name by becoming other people, Danny has to save himself by finding out who he really is.

The search for the young lead actor to play Danny Fearon began back in June 2014. The casting director for Red Production Company, Lisa Makin, was looking for a late teen of Jamaican parentage with a West Midlands accent and a talent for impressions of cultural icons from the 1970s.

Confirmed cast announced so far are;

The cast gathered at the end of April to read through the script in Dudley with filming scheduled to start May 2015.

The series will be produced by Tom Sherry with executive producers Nicola Shindler (RED Production Company) and Polly Hill, (BBC Head of Independent Drama) and directed by Destiny Ekaragha.

The West Midlands is due to be very well represented on TV in 2015;

  • Caitlin Moran comedy series Raised by Wolves (Channel 4) is set in Wolverhampton
  • Stephen Knight drama Peaky Blinders (BBC) is to return for a third series and is set in 1930s Birmingham
  • Adil Ray comedy Citizen Khan (BBC), set in Sparkhill Birmingham is also returning for a fourth series
  • Dominique Moloney created drama series WPC 56, set in the fictional Birmingham suburb of Brinford, has just enjoyed a successful third series.

With only WPC 56 filmed in the West Midlands, with the others all filming in the North of England, it’s good to hear that the BBC commissioned production, Danny and the Human Zoo, is due to begin filming in and around Dudley and the West Midlands in May 2015, so keep your eyes open for some 1970s fashions and styles on the streets of the West Midlands real soon.

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All Change at Brinford

WPC 56 Series 3 starts Monday 9th March 2.15pm BBC One

New WPC at Brinford

WPC Annie Taylor arrives at Brinford Police station on Monday 9th March 2015.

 

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WPC 56 Series 3 Episode 1 Preview Screening

Having received a very kind invite from BBC Birmingham PR a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the preview screening of the first episode of series three of WPC 56 this afternoon at the new Everyman cinema in the Birmingham Mailbox and here is my report (no spoilers) on the event and the episode.

Everyman cinema

Birmingham’s latest cinema experience was hosting today’s event, which was organised by BBC Birmingham Public Relations. I’d seen pictures of the Everyman cinema in the press a few days ago and it looked very impressive and I have to say it didn’t disappoint. I was welcomed by BBC PR (Thanks Bryn George for the invite) and introduced to WPC 56 series producer Mike Hobson before being shown into the screening. I took a seat on one of the very comfortable double sofas, plumped up my cushion and tucked into the complimentary pizza that was waiting on the small round drinks table between the sofas. This was a great cinema experience, and one I’m sure to try again soon.

WPC 56 Series 3 Episode 1 – A Different Beat

The proceedings were kicked off with a short introduction from Joe Godwin, Director of the BBC Academy in Birmingham, who then handed over the introduction of the screening to series producer, Mike Hobson, who wasted no time at all in getting the episode started and we were about to be treated to 45 minutes of brilliant, edgy daytime police drama.

I won’t go into too much detail of the actual plot but I will share a couple of things of interest (no spoilers).

It’s been well documented that WPC Dawson (Jennie Jacques) would not be featured in series three and we would see the arrival of a new WPC (Taylor) played by, the Moseley born, Claudia Jessie so I was interested to see how this change of lead character was handled. The answer to my own query, was that it was done well and quickly.

After a quick recap from series two the opening credits subtly revealed the character change as the silhouetted outline of the WPC in the police line had taken on a new shape.

All open plot threads from series two were cleared up within the first few minutes, covering WPC Dawson’s absence, and we were soon introduced to WPC Taylor, who now wears the WPC 56 badge, and her police family.  The second new character, DI Harry Sawyer (Oliver Rix), was also pretty quick to appear on screen, and his character was soon established in the opening scenes. As the episode progresses we learn that DI Sawyer has a complex family background, that I’m sure will develop nicely over the five episode series.

New character introductions and series two housekeeping swiftly out the way we were then left to enjoy the rest of the risqué and gritty subject matter of the first episode, all done in a way that stays just about suitable for a daytime audience of course, although I’m sure some of the ‘Mary Whitehouse brigade’ will find some of the content a little too near the mark for a 2.15pm show, but then they should maybe find something else to watch if they are not happy.

By about halfway through I’d almost forgotten that there were new characters to get used to as they blended into the series so effortlessly it seemed like they had been there all along. WPC Taylor is much feistier than her predecessor Dawson and DI Sawyer is clearly a troubled man with an interesting personal back story. Both these new characters bring a new dimension to the show which I’m sure viewers will warm to very quickly.

The whole cast were superb, from screen newcomer Amy Shepherd, as beauty pageant contestant Helen Reilly, to established actor Brian Capron, as comedian and compare Clifford Starkey, but the standout performance for me was from Susannah Doyle, who played June Sawyer, in a role that was a complete change from the character she played in Drop The Dead Donkey back in the 90s.

There was also a welcome return of a well loved ‘character’, which Liam Jeavons told me afterwards, was the same one we were introduced to in series two, although I wasn’t convinced. If you saw series two you will spot, as I did, the brief reappearance and when I did I found a smile breaking out across my face, as I recalled the series two episode they first appeared in.

Location spotters will no doubt be delighted to see the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley playing yet another starring role in a TV drama as well as an appearance of Château Impney in Droitwich, famously the venue for the wedding reception of Meg & Hugh Mortimer in Crossroads way back in 1975 , and the return of familiar Brinford Station exterior in Margaret Street.

The end of the episode left us all wanting more of this great drama, but, as always, the only disadvantage of these sneak preview screenings is that we now have to wait nearly a week to see how the story progresses when episode two airs.

Cast and Crew Q&A

Following the episode screening we were introduced to new WPC, Claudia Jessie, series creator, Dominique Moloney and series producer, Mike Hobson and the host for the Q&A, BBC Midlands Today’s, Satnam Rana. The initial Q&A saw the cast and crew quizzed by Rana about the change of WPC, the locations used, and the risqué subjects covered, all of which were confidently answered by each guest in turn.

The questions were opened up to the audience and they asked further questions about locations, and story lines and also the use of the Birmingham accent, which Jessie answered brilliantly, giving her Nan the credit for her being able to drop back into a native Birmingham twang for the role.

Rana also revealed that BBC Midlands Today have a WPC 56 feature which they will air on Friday 6th March 2015, featuring a look behind the scenes of making the drama in Birmingham, so make sure you don’t miss that.

Claudia Jessie (WPC Annie Taylor) and Liam Jeavons (PC Tommy Perkins) pose for a quick photo after the screening.

Claudia Jessie (WPC Annie Taylor) and Liam Jeavons (PC Tommy Perkins) pose for a quick photo after the screening.

I briefly chatted with both Liam Jeavons (PC Tommy Perkins) and Claudia Jessie (WPC Taylor) as well as writer and creator Dominique Moloney as everyone started to exit the plush new cinema. They spoke about the cast surprise at the subjects covered in the scripts; especially for episodes 4 and 5, the fun they have making the show and the friends they have made while working on it and way the introduction of the new characters was handled to avoid a repeat scenario of the very first episode introductions. They were all happy to chat and spend some time discussing the show and my blog updates, which they all seemed genuine appreciative of, which was really nice to hear.

You can see episode one of WPC 56 series three when it starts at 2.15pm on Monday 9th March 2015 and you can still catch up with Series One and Two on BBC iPlayer if you need a recap before next week.

Thanks to BBC Birmingham PR for the invite and thanks to all those I spoke to for being friendly and appreciative of my promotion for this great show.

If anyone is interested you can enter a free competition to run alongside the new series.
NB: The competition is not organised by the BBC or the programme writers and is not affiliated with the show and is just for fun.

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