Peter Kay's Car Share: BBC show is comedian's first TV sitcom in a decade

The programme's co-creator Paul Coleman reveals the challenges of getting the show on the road

Paul Coleman
Monday 27 April 2015 09:32 BST
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Driving force: Peter Kay stars in and co-wrote ‘Car Share’
Driving force: Peter Kay stars in and co-wrote ‘Car Share’ (BBC)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

Having the initial idea for a sitcom is only a tiny percentage of the work that is needed to get it on television. In my day job as a partner at an insight, innovation and brand agency, I help big companies come up with new ideas for anything from reinventing washing powder to developing new snack foods, and I know all too well that ideas need a mix of great insight, luck and someone to get behind it.

My inspiration for Car Share came from watching Alfred Molina and Dawn French in BBC's Roger & Val Have Just Got In, and thinking that it looked like an economical show to make. Two actors, one simple set. This is surely what comedy commissioners are looking for – a low-cost show that also happens to be funny.

I started playing around with ideas that involved two people in a single setting. A father and son living in a scrapyard, two prisoners doing porridge, two girls one cup... sadly everything seemed to have been done before. The brainwave came one day when I was walking to work, watching all the commuters in their cars, making the same journey they had made countless times before. That was the answer, two people in a car, on their way to and from work. To inject a bit of tension, the couple would be forced to do this by a new company-wide car-sharing initiative, and wouldn't really know each other. The sit of the sitcom was born.

I then approached Tim Reid, with whom I worked at the time, partly to test if the idea had legs, but also to see if he fancied writing it with me. I work better if I have a deadline and working with someone else gave me this. We quickly developed the characters and went on to write six episodes.

The next stage is luck. Having previously worked with Peter Kay – I script-edited Max and Paddy's Road to Nowhere, as well as co-writing Britain's Got the Pop Factor - I had an "in". Over dinner with him I told him about the idea for Car Share and asked him if he would simply read the scripts we had worked on and give me his honest opinion. I had him cornered, he was taking me out for my birthday and he'd already stolen three chips off my plate – how could he possibly say no?

What happened next was way beyond my wildest dreams (excluding the one in which a young Harriet Harman teaches me to tap dance, but I'm not expanding on that in a national newspaper). Peter not only loved the show, he also wanted to be in it.

The trouble was the character as written was in his mid-twenties and therefore his outlook on life was a little different from a character nearing 40. The script needed some work. Working together with both Peter and Sian Gibson, who brilliantly plays the character of Kayleigh in the series, we honed the scripts both to enrich the story and up the funny. Peter added in daydream elements and wanted to increase the role of the radio station, making it, in many scenes, the third character.

Road trip: Peter Kay with co-star Sian Gibson and co-creator Paul Coleman
Road trip: Peter Kay with co-star Sian Gibson and co-creator Paul Coleman

It is clear that Peter can open doors, I've seen him do this, although we did once get locked on the roof of a hotel in Lloret de Mar. Peter has not only taken a starring role in Car Share, he has directed the show and added huge amounts to the scripts, including improvisation scenes with Sian. Both deliver funny and believable performances that I hope audiences will love.

Peter is a perfectionist, and we spent months agonising about how the show would be shot. We wanted it to feel real, for people to recognise traits from their own journey to work, and we needed to capture all of this on a moving set. Technical teams, with far better brains than mine, worked out how to make it possible, and Peter worked closely with them, detailing the look and feel he was hoping to achieve.

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The routes for the fictional journey into work had to be carefully planned. We needed to ensure that the background didn't look like a chase scene from Scooby Doo, passing the same house multiple times, but also needed to make sure they matched up. A conversation in the car that starts with a backdrop of green fields, can't just suddenly flip to a built-up urban area.

Peter's attention to detail was infectious, with the whole crew working hard to get the tiniest detail right, from raindrops on a window to the sunlight bouncing off the car. It turns out controlling nature is quite a task. Contrary to the popular myth it isn't always raining in Manchester, and it certainly doesn't when your story needs it to. As for the Great British public, they either want to wave when they see a camera or to hide their faces, neither of which really adds to the natural feel of a show. These are the perils of shooting every scene outdoors, on a moving set with passers-by as your supporting cast.

So my initial idea of Car Share being a cost-effective and simple programme to make was massively misguided – something the crew took much delight in telling me, while rigging up a car with five cameras, hiding microphones in the ceiling and having it pulled by a crew crammed in the back of a transit van, pulling focus on cameras controlling sound and monitoring continuity. Even though what we achieved is a technical marvel, the audience should only ever think it is two people in a car. That is the great achievement of Car Share – it's massively complicated, but it looks really simple.

While I feel very lucky to have had a sitcom made, I am also thankful to have one directed by and starring Peter. This brings lots of interest to the show, but it also adds a huge amount of pressure. Car Share has become a big event; Peter attracts a lot of attention and with it comes expectations. I hope he does not regret stealing those chips.

'Peter Kay's Car Share' will be on BBC iPlayer from 24 to 28 April and then on BBC1 from 29 April

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