The new animated sitcom Full English comes with an impressive pedigree. It is created and written by brothers Jack and Harry Williams – whose father is playwright and Wimbledon Poisoner novelist Nigel Williams – and illustrated by Alex Scarfe, the 30-year-old son of Gerald Scarfe, the cartoonist known for his savage caricatures of public figures. And the fact that their show is an attempt at a British Family Guy or The Simpsons, means that it also comes with high expectations – one expectation being that it will fall flat on its face for having the temerity to take on the mantle of those great American cartoons.
In fact Full English is pretty funny and well executed – not least Scarfe's deliberately detailed and "un-cartoony" characters. Since leaving the Chelsea School of Art (where he first encountered the Williams brothers) Scarfe's metier has been abstract "and slightly weird" paintings. "But I've always been interested in animation," he says. "I was pitching a comedy book imagining what happened to cartoon characters after they'd been on TV in the Eighties – I showed it to Harry, and he said we should do something together sometime."
The Williams brothers, who created the 2007 BBC3 sitcom Roman's Empire, had been writing an animated sitcom for Fox in America when they got back in contact with Scarfe to help them design that project (about a family of illegal Mexican immigrants – it never got made).
"Fox always say that all their shows are about a family in some way… often British animation has tried to be extreme or big concept," says Harry Williams, citing Stressed Eric (the 1998 animation about a divorcee), I Am Not an Animal (the Steve Coogan-voiced Peter Baynham animation about creatures escaped from a vivisection lab), and the cult series Monkey Dust, which took paedophilia and bestiality as subjects. "We're just a family show, but that's a way of taking us into English culture."
Full English tells of put-upon suburban drudge Edgar (voiced by The IT Crowd star Richard Ayoade), his perfectionist wife Wendy (Rosie Cavaliero) and their three dysfunctional children – the two sons voiced by Kayvan Novak (Fonejacker, Four Lions). Harry Williams says Edgar is not simply an anglicised Homer Simpson or Pete Griffin from Family Guy. "Homer and Pete are such an American type… fat, lazy stereotypes of the American male. We were thinking of the stereotypical English family man… meek, suppressed, trying to hide from his family."
Like The Simpsons, Full English features animated versions of real celebrities – in the first episode an effeminate Simon Cowell, a hand-holding Ant and Dec and a Nuts magazine-reading Queen – although unlike in The Simpsons (and obviously in the case of Her Majesty) these aren't voiced by the famous themselves. "There's something cosy about people playing themselves," says Jack Williams. "And we didn't want it to be The Impressions Show we tried to capture the personality. Alex's pictures are so good he does a lot of the work for you."
Scarfe painted his characters on paper, while LA-based Rough-Draft, the company behind Family Guy and Futurama, executed the animation. "They'd never done anything rude like this, and they really took to it," says Scarfe. "Every single object and background had a British look, so everything was sent back to me to look over – often at one in the morning because of time differences." And how does Scarfe, whose mother is Jane Asher, feel about following in his father's footsteps? "I grew up in a family where that sort of satire was happening all the time," he says. "They get it."
'Full English' begins on 12 November at 10.50pm on Channel 4Reuse content