On Air: Mister Men behaving badly

Simon Nye is too busy writing jokes to misbehave. James Rampton talks to the saviour of the sitcom

JOURNALISTS HAVE a habit of categorising people in the style of Roger Hargreaves' Mister Men. Thus in the past they have characterised Angus Deayton as Mr Sex and Simon Nye, the unassuming writer of Men Behaving Badly, as Mr Docile.

In his own mild-mannered way, Nye is a bit fed-up with this. "I'm getting tired of being described as the quiet one who writes the wild show," he sighs. "I'm such dull copy, I want to spice my image up. I always toy with the idea of coming to interviews in a torn T-shirt and drinking a can of lager, but I'd just look like a middle-class boy pretending to be hard."

Perhaps a more appropriate title for Nye would be Mr Sitcom. After all, he is perhaps the first writer in British television history to have had sitcoms on all four major terrestrial channels in the same year. Over the past 12 months he has given us Men Behaving Badly and The Last Salute on BBC1, How Do You Want Me? on BBC2, My Wonderful Life on ITV and now Is It Legal? on C4.

But he seems quite content with the sobriquet of Mr Sitcom. "Being called Mr Anything which isn't Mr Grumpy, Balding or Middle-Aged Writer is quite nice," he laughs. But isn't there a danger of overwork causing Mr Sitcom's head to explode? In the past six months, he has penned no fewer than 18 half-hour sitcom episodes - to say nothing of a full-length panto (Jack and the Beanstalk) for ITV. Oh, and a comedy pilot about a vet, for a US network. Even prolific writers such as Lucy Gannon and Lynda La Plante don't begin to approach the number of television hours he turns out each year.

Nye is the first to acknowledge the risks. "People tell me I look washed out, but having a lot of work actually helps because you become less soul- searching. A lot of comedy is about exuberance and thrust. If you've got a whole year to write six episodes, you lose that sense of thrust. Whereas if you only have a week ... actually, a week would be a dream."

So how does Nye keep up a pace that would exhaust a 30-member American writing team? "There are only a limited number of things you can write about without doing a Daniel Day-Lewis and immersing yourself for a year in a particular world," he says. "Someone suggested that I write a sitcom set in a sort of eco-pod biosphere. God knows what it's like to live in one - only six people in the known universe do. You'd be guessing the whole time. So I turned that one down. Sitcom characters should be like the people from next door dropping in - even if you don't want them to. `Oh no, it's those bloody women from Birds of a Feather again'."

The other thing that distinguishes Nye's sitcoms is the dark edges. Ian in How Do You Want Me?, for instance, endures a savage beating at the hands of his brother-in-law - hardly the staple of your regular three- piece-suite-com. "The comedy of embarrassment is very much what I do. There's something worrying about jolly characters - they're tiring. Anxious people are more intriguing. I divide characters into the suffering and those that make other people suffer. The more intelligent you are, the more you suffer.

Is It Legal? is a case in point. "Bob and Stella [decent, but fatally frustrated lawyers] are more aware than the others of the tragedy of their own situation. I see that as a fair reflection of life." He goes on to cite other examples of tragi-coms. "Think of Rising Damp, which was incredibly dark. Without writing a thesis about it, even Blackadder was a real manic depressive with an abuse problem and a sadism complex."

Viewers obviously get a frisson from watching sitcom characters like Gary and Tony cause outrage with impunity. "It's liberating to see people say things we would like to say," he says. "Certainly, a lot of people wanted to say the things Alf Garnett said, and we we're all dying to tell the Germans what Basil Fawlty told them. And every frustration you've ever felt is legitimised by seeing Victor Meldrew's behaviour."

Perhaps wisely, Nye is quitting while he's ahead and ending Men Behaving Badly after a three-part special this Christmas. "Also," he says, "I feel it's unseemly for these men in their mid-thirties still to be doing these things - in fact, it's been unseemly for many years now. Anyway, the characters have been doing a lot of growing up recently - Gary realised he was starting to wear cardigans - and the essence of good sitcom is that people don't change."

Even as Men Behaving Badly comes to an end, Nye continues to get his collar felt by the PC police for supposedly encouraging laddish behaviour. "I had hoped they would realise it is a satire," he says. "Can you think of any sitcom characters you should copy? Sergeant Wilson perhaps."

For all its success over here, Men Behaving Badly never made it over there. The American version was pulled after a series and a half. Nye ruefully reflects on the wheelbarrow-loads of dollars he could have walked away with if the series had been a hit in the States. "I could have bought Runcorn - although it's obviously unhealthy to own small towns unless you're a benevolent dictator. But you could never be that as a comedy writer; you'd be crabby after failing to come up with a joke that morning and just take it out on your town."

Nye talks like this all the time. He is an arch and artful commentator, whose softly-spoken manner belies an acute awareness of people. It's probably a hopeless task, but if anyone can help drag the reputation of the Brit- com out of the mire, Nye can. "Let's face it, there's a lot of lazy sitcom writing around," he admits. "Lots of shows look like they were made up in the cab on the way to the studio - and they probably were. We're all victims of that.

"But it is not true that sitcoms are an inferior form of writing," he says, his voice for once rising with passion. "They last longer than any other form on television. They're not repeating episodes of The Onedin Line, but they're still repeating Dad's Army. People are not now using James Onedin's catchphrase - `hoist the mainsail' - but they are still saying to each other `stupid boy'."

Mr Sitcom to the last.

`Is It Legal?' starts on Wednesday at 9.30pm, C4

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
The new Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

    The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album