Nye's work

Simon Nye, author of Men Behaving Badly, is back with a new sitcom set in an office. He's not interested in plots, and he thinks the best comedy happens in real life. Modest or what? James Rampton met him

The office sitcom could easily be brought before a TV disciplinary committee, accused of bringing the medium into disrepute. Ventures such as Nice Day at the Office - the John Sessions and Timothy Spall vehicle - could be taken down and used in evidence against the off-com. All that may change, however, with Is It Legal?, a typically lively offering from Simon Nye, the writer responsible for Frank Stubbs Promotes and Men Behaving Badly.

In the ornate surroundings of the Cadogan Hotel in Knightsbridge, Nye, sporting an appealingly unkempt beard, defends the sit of his new com: a drab suburban solicitors' office. "I like basic situations. I've done a basic domestic situation with Men Behaving Badly. Now I'm doing a basic work situation. After all, most people work in offices. I used to; I was a translator for an insurance broker and then for Credit Suisse - I didn't seek much excitement in my early life. I like office life - it's just people sitting around chatting. For a writer not interested in plots, that's good."

This setting also provides the writer with what he enjoys most: gloominess. "Is It Legal? has a staid firm in a pretty run-down locale," he avers. "It gives that slight air of desperation that I like so much. Characters come built-in with this desire to escape. Eventually, the time will come when I have to do successful people, but I'm sure some boffin could come up with the statistic that 83 per cent of sitcoms are about desperate people - and the rest aren't very good."

It is rare for a writer to be touted as the star of the show, but after his previous two works, that is what Nye is. Along with such people as Ben Elton, Richard Curtis and Jennifer Saunders, he is one of the handful of comedy writers whose name appears above the title. At the launch of Is It Legal?, I was in danger of drowning in a sea of tributes.

"Simon develops characters fantastically well," says Patrick Barlow, co-star of the series. "You don't feel you're playing a caricature. He's not frightened of being psychologically accurate. It's nice to get laugh- lines, but it's almost as rewarding to do lines that are actually quite touching." Imelda Staunton, Barlow's co-star, grabs the baton. "He's good at making people vulnerable - think of Frank Stubbs - and he's not afraid of violence and mental cruelty. If you haven't got words, then no amount of face-pulling will cover that up - as I've learnt to my cost. But with this you've got no need to cover anything up."

Luvvieness aside, it is true that Nye's great knack is to be on first- name terms with his characters. They have that quality without which no comedy will work: believability. We've all met people like the loveable loser Frank Stubbs, the incorrigible Men Behaving Badly, Gary and Tony, and now the sadly unfulfilled office workers Stella (Staunton) and Bob (Barlow).

Having become a full-time writer relatively late in life, Nye remains refreshingly modest about his achievements. Of his finest hour, Men Behaving Badly, he says: "It's just self-deluded people chatting to each other endlessly. It isn't any great thesis about the young man in society or sexual politics. It should be said that idle conversations are taking place up and down the country that are far funnier than what we see on television. They're just not being recorded. That's what I was trying to do - take some idle conversations and shape them into this story of rivalry."

The success of Men Behaving Badly has led some people to confuse the writer with the archetypal lads of the title. "I can quite believe it is a side of me that I've suppressed and that I'm now given a great opportunity to express. But nothing appalls me more than some of the things they do. I don't even go into the pub much any more. I've got a baby, for goodness' sake. I like writing it, but I don't like doing it. The show is not championing anyone. People just like to see stupid behaviour. It's liberating. It's seven-and-a-half hours of stupid behaviour."

Surprisingly, those seven-and-a-half hours have copped little flak. "My sister has been the only person to complain," Nye says, half-regretfully. "She introduced me at the christening of her fourth child as 'the rudest man in England'. I thought, 'Have I gone too far here?'. But it's the only way to do it. Once you've chosen your characters, there's nowhere to go but rude. For a lot of people, it obviously stays within the limits they've laid down. I still don't know if I'd want to have any children of mine watching two actors singing the Wanker Song in a pub. I'd do some judicious sending to bed."

Millions of viewers obviously disagree, staying up late to go in for some vicarious bad behaviour. So what's the secret of his success? "William Goldman said you need six brilliant moments in a film to make it worthwhile. The same applies to a sitcom. Half a dozen sparky moments and you're laughing." Nye certainly is - all the way to the bank.

'Is It Legal?' starts Tuesday, 8.30pm ITV

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect