The vintage sound of Barmy Dale

by Martin Skellern

The only thing we knew for sure about what we wanted to achieve when we started writing Barmy Dale, apart from the obvious thing that we wanted our audience to laugh, was that we wanted to pay homage to the old-fashioned British sitcoms we had loved as kids. As co-writers it seemed an obvious inspiration as we shared a passion for these old shows. We loved the Galton and Simpson comedies, Hancocks Half Hour and Steptoe and Son that our parents had introduced us to, and the Croft and Perry/Lloyd sitcoms like Are you being Served?, Hi-De-Hi and Allo Allo, that we had discovered for ourselves growing up. 

However, knowing what you want to achieve and then capturing it on the page in your script, and realising it in the final production requires more than just the desire.  To help us reach our goal we had to get a few basics right. First, we created a setting, the town of Barmy Dale,  that is stuck in the past. We then created characters in the town who are also stuck in the past, but are having to grapple with the invasion of the modern world. Their struggle to bridge this gap made them funny immediately. And the fact that they are so lost means that there is pathos too. The world is increasingly barmy and a lot of people are struggling to keep up. Our audience seem to sympathise.

Once those fundamentals were in place we needed to get some technical aspects of the show right. We didn't think it was right for Barmy Dale to sound too polished. The show shouldn't be in Dolby Stereo. We wanted a sound that belied the fact that the stories are set in the present day. The feel of the show's sound design should suggest that it was recorded decades ago in a world long forgotten. Then we asked the very talented composer, Jordan Frater, to capture that sense of vintage comedy in the theme of the show and the incidental music we wanted. What he delivered was dead on. Quite simply brilliant. 

The last pieces of the puzzle were getting the casting right. We knew Juliet Howland and knew that she had worked with Ray Galton in a West End theatre production of Steptoe and Son a few years previously. We asked her to play Gracie and to our delight she agreed, bringing  her experience and instinctive understanding of the vintage comedy we were looking for. 

After five episodes we felt we wanted to expand the cast of characters. When we thought about casting for them we rattled off the names of actors from sitcoms of the 80s that we wanted to be in the show. We knew if we could get them on board they would understand exactly the type of comedy we were trying to bring back to life. We asked Jeffrey Holland who, as kids, we had loved in Hi-De-Hi to play Reverend Wilkins. We wanted Karl Howman, from a comedy show we both loved called Brush Strokes, to play D.S. Linklater and Michael Fenton-Stevens who we both admired enormously to play the Police Chief. To play the Barmy Dale villain's  wife, Angie Edwards, we asked the fabulous Vicki Michelle. All of these actors were our first choices for the parts and people who, to be honest, we fully expected to say no to us. Remarkably, they all said yes. And Barmy Dale sounds excatly the way we want.   


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