David Quantick on Mel Brooks, nailing crabs to pieces of wood, and writing scripts at 42,000ft


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The Thick of It and Veep are both about politics. Do things work differently on the other side of the Atlantic?

You can imagine quite easily in Britain that somebody would walk into David Cameron's office like Malcolm Tucker would do and say, "Sit down you wanker, shut the fuck up". That would never happen in America, because no matter what people think of Barack Obama, you would never tell the President to fuck off.

Do you think the Queen is off-limits in a similar way here?

I think Americans are probably more reverent to the Queen than we are. I think they're in awe of her: they think she might be something from Harry Potter.

How about Americans not getting irony. Is that a fair judgement?

That's insane! Mel Brooks, TS Eliot if he counts, Ring Lardner, James Thurber... The Americans gave us Woody Allen – we gave them Benny Hill.

Do Brits feel unjustly superior?

I think so. It's that whole shrinkage of empire thing. It's us standing on a very small pebble, shaking our fists at people sailing past in much bigger ships. Now we no longer have stiff upper lips, all we have is this massive chip on our shoulder.

So the Yanks don't view us as these lovable Hugh Grant types?

British comedy – from Monty Python to The Office – has prepared Americans for the possibility that we might be scum. The popularity of Ricky Gervais suggests that they've taken to their bosom the idea that British people might be sweaty and awkward.

You worked on the paedophiles episode of Brass Eye. Were any of the celebrities angry at being made to look fools? You had Phil Collins nail a crab to a piece of wood...

I don't know. But I remember working on a show with one celebrity when Brass Eye was being made. He came in and said, "I've just done this charity video and it's shocking because there's a device". And he went through the whole thing about this device that paedophiles could use to stimulate themselves while talking to children online. Halfway through I thought, hang on...

Who's funnier, Chris Morris or Armando Iannucci?

That's a tough one. They are of equal talent. Armando gives the appearance of being more whimsical, but he's kind of like an iron fist in a whimsical glove. Whereas Chris gives the appearance of being more frightening, but is probably the nicer of the two. If you were doing a good-cop, bad-cop situation with Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci, Armando would be the one who would offer you a cup of tea and then say that he has spat in it, whereas Chris would be the one who would secretly dab your wounds when you were lying bleeding on the floor.

You've written a TV pilot for Air New Zealand. Do you often write on planes?

I wish. I mostly write on horrible trains. I have written columns on my phone before but this was a first. I think because it was so posh I was able to work in comfort. Also they have great wine.

Was it all done in the air ?

Yes, in 11 hours. Normally I write in bursts of two hours but with all this time on my hands, once I'd watched all the films and drunk all the wine, I still had time to write. It's going to be in all the seat pockets in business class. I'm hoping the cabin crew read it out as part of the safety drill.