The Unlikely lads: Does Ralf Little's new sitcom hit the right note?

The actor Ralf Little has been practising what he calls his "Oasis swagger". In Massive, a lively new BBC3 sitcom, he and Carl Rice are playing Danny and Shay, two likely lads from Manchester who decide to chuck in their menial jobs as clerks in a warehouse and set up their own record label instead.

Their progress is, however, thwarted at every turn by the inept criminal activities of Shay's dodgy ex-con dad, Tony (played with relish and a glorious 'tache by Johnny Vegas). The show's executive producer Kenton Allen hits the nail on the head when he describes Massive as a story "about rock'n'roll lifestyles on a Primark budget".

The series certainly has a ring of authenticity to it – no surprise given the history of its writer Damian Lanigan. In November 1984, his band The Twentieth Legion performed at the Hacienda. Suitably encouraged by this one-night stand at the legendary Manchester club, Lanigan briefly considered setting up his own record label, but thought better of it when he eyed the strength of the local competition: Rough Trade and Factory.

Key to Danny and Shay's new venture, which they christen Shady Music, is projecting the right image – hence the laddish gait, a Northern version of what Tom Wolfe in The Bonfire of the Vanities calls "the pimp roll". "We've been doing the proper Liam and Noel strut in our skinny jeans and Northern Quarter tops," reveals Little. "We've been swaggering about like an out-take from an Oasis video. The only problem is, we can't do it properly because, quite frankly, these jeans are too tight."

Despite the restrictions imposed by their trousers, Little and Rice have taken on absolutely the right mindset for their parts. As Danny and Shay, they exude the perfect "Manc" cockiness. During a break in filming, Little tells me that Massive had to be set in Manchester – the city is a central character in the sitcom. The defiant, up-yours spirit of the place infuses the script.

"Manchester has such a great sense of identity," reckons the actor, who is Manchester born and bred. "I have a mate from Bedford, and he has no sense of belonging. I like being a Manc. I like the attitude of, 'yeah, we can do this'. You might be totally untalented, but if you've got the belief, you'll end up doing it anyway. These two lads, Danny and Shay, haven't got a clue about running a record label. But they love music, so they just go for it. That's very Manchester."

The city, which was at the centre of the indie-rock explosion of the late 1980s and early 1990s, also has a rich heritage of musical innovation. The 26-year-old Little, who played Joy Division and New Order bassist Peter Hook in Michael Winterbottom's movie about Factory Records, 24-Hour Party People, says: "Manchester has an unrivalled musical tradition. I think we even edge it over Liverpool... It's about self-belief. There's just a swagger about Manchester. When Joy Division got together, none of them could play their instruments. They were Manchester kids who had nothing to do, so they decided to form a band and just figured it out as they went along. That can-do attitude is what Manchester is all about."

Rice, another native Mancunian, who previously appeared in the BBC3 sketch show Scallywagga, chips in: "When you hear the word 'Manchester', you immediately think of music. The Sex Pistols performed their first ever gig here, and bands like Joy Division, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays and Oasis all created huge new scenes. Manchester is constantly bubbling with new ideas. It has a vibrant youth culture, and the music captures that. So much film and TV is now being made here, too – there's a real buzz about the place. I used to think I would have to move to London for work, but that's not the case anymore. It's all happening here."

And it's not just the place but the rapport between Danny and Shay that's pivotal to Massive, believes Rice: "A lot of sitcoms like The Office or Blackadder feature not very likeable characters. But this has a Gavin and Stacey feel – you'll genuinely like these people. Danny and Shay are such close friends, they can say anything to each other and it just washes over them." Little agrees: "They [the characters] have this terrific banter that informs their relationship. Shay thinks he's a great purist about his music, but Danny tells him, 'Just because it's rubbish doesn't mean it's art.' No matter what comes at them, they always maintain their wit."

Little and Rice have really hit it off. "We want to go away and write something together after this has finished filming," says Rice. "But we'll probably just end up in Benidorm with Johnny Vegas drinking pints of Skol and eating chicken in a basket."

Alongside the city of Manchester, the other big star of Massive is the aforementioned Vegas. The 37-year-old actor, who is sitting outside his trailer in a grubby white vest and tracksuit bottoms, characterises Tony as "a laid-back professional thief who sees going to jail as an occupational hazard. Conventional life has never appealed. He tried to hold down a job once, but it only lasted a day. There would be a lot of empty chairs at Shay's parent-teacher evenings – Tony would always be in the school store-cupboard nicking all the paper-clips. It's like Absolutely Fabulous. Shay is like a parent to his dad and is the voice of reason that Tony loves to ignore."

And that's the appeal of Massive – its wry and warm characterisation. It's not aiming to be a biting parody of the music business, says David Kerr, the series' director: "It's a simple tale of two likely lads chasing a dream. They don't harbour the Thatcherite dream of shed-loads of money or the hip-hop fantasy of bling and babes. At the start of the series, they just have the most rubbish jobs imaginable and think: 'anything would be better than this.' And it is. Maybe by series five, they'll be bigger than EMI!"

'Massive' starts on Sunday at 9pm on BBC3

Family guy: the rise of Ralf Little



The Royle Family

Landing the role as Antony, the picked-upon son in the Bafta-winning The Royle Family (left), alongside Caroline Aherne and Ricky Tomlinson, had Little hanging up his white coat and stethoscope and abandoning the medical degree he'd just started.



Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps

Little's second long-running BBC comedy role was as hapless Jonny, one of five twenty-somethings living in a Cheshire town.

24 Hour Party People

Little had to learn the bass for his role as New Order bassist Peter Hook (right) in Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People about the Manchester music scene.



Paradise Heights

Finding himself tangled in more family affairs, Little plays the youngest of three wheeler-dealing Nottingham-based brothers in BBC drama series Paradise Heights.

Notes on Falling Leaves

Little was nominated for an Olivier Award for his performance in Ayub Khan-Din's play.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
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.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'