Siblings Daisy and Charlie Cooper tell Stylist’s Helen Bownass how they turned reality into hit sitcom This Country.
This Country is the funniest show on TV. A bold claim, but one I’m owning.
The British mockumentary – the second series of which began last week on BBC iPlayer – is the creation of siblings Daisy and Charlie Cooper and follows fictional cousins Kerry and Lee ‘Kurtan’ Mucklowe (played by the pair) in their Cotswold village where, well, nothing really happens other than scarecrow - making contests, conversations about Compare the Meerkat and a Grease cinema night at the local community centre.
Granted, that might not sound like the funniest premise but This Country’s humour and brilliance comes from the fact it skewers the minutiae of life impeccably. It makes everything out of nothing: almost a whole episode in series one is devoted to who gets to cook their food on the top shelf of the oven.
What’s also appealing is that Kerry and Kurtan aren’t nasty or unlikeable; they’re just bored and aimless. In a Venn diagram the BBC Three show sits in the intersection between funny, sad and heartwarming.
It tells the stories of working-class people whose tales aren’t often told. And it’s not just me: series one became a cult hit when it debuted in 2017 with more than five million views on iPlayer.
Meeting Daisy, 31, and Charlie, 28, is just as funny, sad and heartwarming. This success is far from the norm for them – the pair spent many years grafting in London where Daisy graduated from Rada in 2010 and Charlie worked as a model after getting scouted while working in Topshop, before they moved back home to Cirencester in 2011 with an idea to make a show about their hometown.
The pair are open about how the show brought them back from rock bottom after a disastrous first attempt to get it on screen (more on which later). Their interaction reminds me of the fights and discussions my sister and I have about the gravy that ruined Christmas and why she’s not allowed to use my best towel when she visits.
We chat over white wine, cider and Scotch eggs in a pub in the Cotswolds village where Daisy lives with her partner (“a big oaf of a landscape gardener”). Charlie lives a few minutes away with their parents – father Paul is also in the show as Kerry’s dad. They’re apologetic and grateful that I’ve travelled to meet them but I’m thrilled to get a glimpse of where the show is created.
More practically, travel for them is currently a bit tricky – Daisy gave birth to her daughter just five weeks ago. The second series was filmed while she was heavily pregnant. “She was an accident,” she reveals, “so we just thought we’d get on with it”. And get on with it they did. Sort of…
Musicians always talk about the difficult second album – is it the same with a comedy series?
Daisy: I have sleepless nights. I was up all last night because a clip went on Facebook, and I was going through all the comments. We’re both so unbelievably sensitive with everything. Even if a waitress were to pour a drink, I’d be thinking, ‘Oh. Was she a bit funny with me then?’ There was a comment from some old guy saying, “I live in the Cotswolds and this is a really bad misrepresentation of us.” That really upset me, until I went on his Facebook [page] and saw that he was having an argument about where his recycling bin had gone and I thought, ‘Well, we f**king wrote that! It exactly depicts what it is.’
How do you stop each other spiralling emotionally when you’re both so sensitive?
Charlie: We take it in turns to be negative and neurotic.
D: I’ll say it’s fine but then go home and be really concerned and phone up Mum and be like, “Charlie said he didn’t like that bit in episode one…”
You were living together at home when you wrote series one in 2011 – what was your state of mind?
C: Depressed… We were young and it was our first [project]. You tell so many people about it and you pin so much hope on it. You can’t help but get carried away.
D: It was like Jack going to market and swapping a cow for some magic f**king beans.
C: And then the magic f**king beans don’t f**king work! They’re rotten. We did the pilot, which was rubbish and got dropped by the production company and ITV. There was a point where it was like, “Is this worth it?”
What gave you the impetus to carry on when the show initially got dropped?
C: It was her, actually.
D: We made this horrendous pilot and ITV came back asking, “What happened?” They did a reshoot, which was like trying to polish a turd then said, “No, not interested, sorry”. I said to Charlie, “This can’t be the end! I can’t think of another idea.” I wrote an email to Shane [Allen, BBC controller of comedy commissioning] and said, “Look, I can’t let this idea go. I don’t know who else to go to, I will stand outside your office dressed as the Karate Kid until you talk to me.” I went to a charity shop and found a judo kit and said, “That’s the sign that I will f**king do that.” I had it all planned out. And then Shane said, “Why would you do that? That’s very odd. Just come in for a meeting.” So we went in to see him. He’s like God to us. He saved us.
You don’t often see brothers and sisters working together – can you understand people’s interest in the dynamic?
D: I don’t know whether it’s because I’m a girl; you have loads of brothers who write together, like the Farrelly brothers [who wrote There’s Something About Mary plus many other comedies].
C: We’ve always been close. When people say things like, “Oh I couldn’t work with my sibling because we don’t talk to each other, we hate each other,” I find that so strange.
Are there things that only you two find funny?
D: Murder documentaries.
C: What we’ve been doing for the last few years is seeing the humour in stuff that’s not meant to be funny. What inspired This Country were real documentaries rather than actual comedies. Real life is so funny. You don’t really have to make it up; it’s all there.
Did you grow up watching lots of comedy?
C: We’ve always been massively passionate about comedy. We’d watch stuff together and find the same things funny. Even stuff that wasn’t meant to be funny.
D: From the age of 10 we would watch Brass Eye.
C: We used to watch The Royle Family with Mum and Dad. Seeing them laugh was so special because we found individually at school that making people laugh was such a powerful thing.
What type of modern culture do you love now?
C: Anything paranormal. I’d love to go to a spiritual medium night and do a ghost walk. I should start my own ghost walk; that would be brilliant.
D: What I always wanted to do was dress up like a Victorian and hang out on an old country road at 4am, so if anybody drove past they’d go “F**k! I’ve just seen a ghost!” – that’s sad, isn’t it?
What’s your writing process like?
C: For the second series, we had an office in Cirencester, with some traffic wardens down the corridor.
D: It’s full of taxidermy because we’re massive taxidermy fans. We’ve got a cardboard tube in there so we play baseball with that for about two hours. We’ll talk about something we’ve seen that’s funny, like Charlie will say, “I saw two people having this argument on a Facebook buying and selling page”, and we’ll see where can we take that. Our storylines are good when they’re really trivial.
Who has the final say?
C: We agree on most of it. [To Daisy] You get your way more than I do. If I wanted something to go in and she didn’t then it probably wouldn’t.
D: We’re actually really pernickety. Every single line has to be right even if there’s an extra syllable that doesn’t make it sound as funny.
C: We can either be perfectionists or complete lazy assholes. It depends on the day and what else we’ve got planned.
How do you handle the business side of the relationship?
C: Not very well. Even with emails we’re both pretty useless. It will take us a week to reply.
D: Because we are so f**king neurotic, we’ll get an email from someone that says, “Have you seen my last email?” and we don’t open it. I’ll say [to Charlie], “Can you open it because it’s probably a producer that wants to have a meeting and I actually can’t, physically or mentally, deal with this.”
C: I’ve got a fear of talking to people on phones as well. I can’t ring anyone. I can’t book a taxi. That’s why Uber is amazing, because you don’t actually have to talk to anyone. We’re completely neurotic like that. I don’t think that will improve, which is a shame.
Have you ever thought what you’d do in a situation like those in the The X Factor when Simon Cowell says, “I like you but you’ve got to get rid of your partner”?
D: I’d be off, I’d be signing that f**king contract. We have actually had that happen recently, where they wanted me.
C: Yeah, because they had too many men on their books.
D: I think that was a polite excuse. It was for a voiceover and initially they said yes to both of us, then they said, “Actually, can we just have Daisy and not Charlie?”
C: You’re so proud of that. The tone in your voice!
D: I did say the heroic thing where I said, “You either take the both of us or you don’t.”
C: Yeah, because you couldn’t be bothered to go to London by yourself. She can’t cross the roads in London.
Would you ever move back to London or go to LA?
D: Could you imagine that! Country bumpkins! No, I’d get killed in the first two seconds. Just walk out into the middle of the highway.
Has living in the Cotswolds kept you sane?
C: We prefer this pace of life.
D: We’re not massively ambitious either. If we could get paid for doing absolutely nothing that would be brilliant. My dream would to be in an accident where I get a pay-out every year. I shouldn’t wish that – that’s terrible. Coming from nothing and having no money, you think, ‘I want every f**king pound’.
What makes you the proudest about each other?
D: I’m really proud of Charlie acting in [This Country] because that was something I never thought he would do. He was so unbelievably shy as a kid, and still is now, so the fact that he’s performing in this and does it so well, that’s amazing.
D: What do you mean “Yeah”? I’m setting this up so you say something nice about me!
C: It wasn’t until the series was commissioned, I wasn’t meant to be in it…
D: No! You’re meant to say something about me now.
C: F**k off. I can’t think of anything… I don’t want to make this about me, but…
D: That’s another thing. You used to get really sh*tty with me, you’ve actually learnt to tolerate me.
C: That’s because you’ve calmed down. She used to be nuts.
D: In what way?
C: I don’t want to upset you… just a bit all over the place. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together, but specifically how amazing she is. I wouldn’t be able to do this without her. She could probably do this by herself.
D: I couldn’t actually do it by myself. That’s so sweet.
C: You’re more of a star. That was always your path, for me to be involved is amazing. If I lived my life 90 times out of 100, I’d probably be working in WHSmith.
D: That is so sad, but very true. You did work in WHSmith, didn’t you?
C: Yeah, five hours on a Sunday.
D: That’s not even a job. You spent all your earnings on one magazine.
C: But it was a sense of pride.
D: That’s pathetic! At what? 21?
C: I was 26…
So what’s next, career-wise?
D: We have got a couple of ideas floating around, but whether we’ll be bothered to write it down or whether we’ll just find it funny….
C: You can make such a mistake thinking you’ve got to capitalise on the success of your show and say yes to everything. This Country was 28 years in the making, because it’s our whole life experiences, living with those characters and being friends with them.
Do you worry that, as you get more famous, you’ll lose touch with the ordinary things that got you there?
D: There will always be funny things that happen. The other day I was stopped for a selfie in Boots by this shy goth girl and her mate. As we were taking the selfie it accidentally clicked onto a picture of her with no clothes on. It was two seconds and felt like a lifetime. She said, “Oh my god!” and walked away. I felt more mortified than she did.
This Country is released every Monday on BBC Three on iPlayer and on BBC One on Tuesdays at 10.45pm
Images: BBC Pictures / Charlie Clift