Following a successful pilot last year on BBC One, this week sees the return of Hospital People for a full six-part run.
Hospital People follows the lives of Brimlington hospital’s inept DJ Ivan Brackenbury, its ambitious manger, Susan Mitchell, Hospital Porter and spirit medium Ian D Montfort and over-enthusiastic hospital chaplain Father Kenny Mercer.
All these characters are played by one man, Tom Binns and with a list of guest stars that includes Russell Brand and Car Share‘s very own Sian Gibson, I felt it was only right to speak to Tom about what’s shaping up to be a great series.
Were you pleased with the overly positive response to the pilot?
Yeah. It really took me by surprise actually and a lot of people came up to me to say that they enjoyed it.
I know this sounds ridiculous, but I was in Australia when it went out, but you kind of forget people watch it. And have seen it. Sian Gibson saw it, who’s in one of the episodes, and she was talking to someone about it long before we’d asked her to be in the show.
I couldn’t get my head around that. I was like “How have you seen it?” – She was like “You know it was on BBC One don’t you?” – “Oh yeah, of course!”
If I can’t get my head around that, what am I going to be like when there’s been six on?
How have things moved on from the pilot?
There’s a lot more story happening. We’ve got a huge comedy star appearing in each episode. What seems to have happened is that Susan Mitchell has taken off as a character and is very much my favourite of them all. And that wasn’t the case in the pilot.
We wrote a new episode and then after we’d filmed it, we looked at it and decided to put some of the pilot back in.
The pilot can’t really be seen again because of cast changes and things like that. So we’re starting from fresh really for this series.
We wanted every episode to have a really strong story. So you couldn’t show the pilot at the start of this series.
You mentioned Susan there, why is she now your favourite?
She’s just really come into her own. There’s one where she puts on an awards ceremony. Pretty much for herself. And she get Alex Macqueen to play an old soap actor to host the awards.
She’s really feminine in it, to the point where people were getting a bit afraid! (Laughs) She really came into her own in that episode.
I had quite a few fittings for a gold sequin dress… and I disturbingly like playing her.
Where have you drawn inspiration from for these characters?
Susan is a very strong female character. My mum and my sister are both head teachers. I’m not going to say any more than that because I’ll get into trouble! I’m not saying they’re like Susan Mitchell but when she says stuff like “Honestly” – that is so like my sister.
I don’t think that they’re particularly comfortable about that, but the person that’s the least comfortable about it is my brother-in-law who really doesn’t like seeing me as Susan Mitchell because it reminds him too much of my sister.
It’s really doing his head in actually!
How does the writing process work? I know you write with Matt Morgan…
Yes, Matt Morgan, and Paul Doolan on this series as well. It’s been interesting and a lot of fun.
A lot of the jokes have come straight out of the stand up and Matt and Paul do a lot more of the structural stuff and the proper writing.
Tell me a bit more about the guest stars.
It’s an odd thing these cameo guests because they’re cameos, but they’re big parts. So star guests really.
We made sure that when they arrive I the hospital, they effect each of my character’s stories. That was a real challenge.
Getting those guests touching all my characters as equally as possible was a real challenge – getting that to work.
What came first? The guest star or the character?
The scripts came first and then as we were casting we were able to tweak and rewrite scripts. Matt Morgan writes with Russell Brand as well and when Matt was writing the series he said – “This is Russell. We should ask him to do it.”
Equally, when we found out we’d got Sian (Gibson), we had to change a lot of that part for her. Sian is quite small and sweet looking, so we had to change it to make her slightly more mental.
I’ve been playing that Ivan Brackenbury character for 25 years, so to watch him be in a love story was quite heart-warming.
Who does Russell Brand play then?
He plays a health guru who thinks he’s Jesus and tries to revolutionise the healthy lifestyle’s of all the staff at the hospital.
It’s Susan’s idea, but then it backfires in her face. He’s just great in it.
You mentioned how you’ve been playing Ivan for 25 years. Do you find it strange that after all this time, because of Hospital People, people are only just discovering your characters? Is that a bit weird?
Yeah, it is a bit. Not quite as weird as watching my body double play him in a romantic dancing scene with Sian.
I’m dressed up as Susan or somebody and I’m watching them in the radio studio dancing together. That was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.
I guess people will come across Ivan for the first time through these shows, which is no bad thing really because he’s better than he ever was. More thought through.
When you started playing Ivan Brackenbury, did you thnk he would end up in his own TV show? Was that part of the plan?
Not really. Before I played him on the circuit, he was a radio character with his own show on BBC GLR which was BBC London years ago.
He also did guest spots on Chris Evans’ breakfast show when he was on Virgin. It was only about eleven years ago that computer technology could be relied upon to play all the jingles and the music in a live show without it crashing.
I never thought he’d make a great TV character, mainly because he’s a great radio character and that kind of overshadowed it. Because he was so good on the radio I didn’t really think about him as a television character.
Until the BBC approached me at Edinburgh Fringe a few years ago and it’s been with them all the way through. I never thought for a minute that it would debut on a primetime slot on BBC One!
It feels like I’ve been playing a very risky long game. Having never been on any other shows, I’ve not even done a spot on Mock The Week.
But that’s the problem with characters, it’s all or nothing isn’t it? Characters don’t land themselves very well to panel shows. The usual route to get on to television were closed to me really.
Is it quite a relief to finally have this show out there?
I guess so. I’m not going to believe it’s on until I’ve seen it! (Laughs)
I replaced Bob Monkhouse on Celebrity Squares and they’d built that giant set with the three boxes and had people like Joan Rivers and Coolio, when he was cool.
It was a big show. There was no way that this was not going out on TV… and that got axed before it went on TV.
What was it like working with someone like Ash Atalla, executive producer on Hospital People, who has such a rich CV when it comes to British comedy?
It’s been great. I’ve worked as a warm up on most comedy shows, like Black Books, The IT Crowd, Men Behaving Badly, The Vicar of Dibley and all the Alan Partridge shows.
So I’ve seen a lot of fantastic comedy from a studio floor being made and Ash has been a big part of a lot of that stuff.
I even auditioned for The Office years ago, for David Brent’s boss. So it’s been great to work with Ash.
Is that where you draw a lot of your comedy inspiration from?
You can’t sit through all of that television being made and for none of it to have gone in. A lot of comics say this, but you still can’t beat things like Morecambe and Wise. The kind of comedy you used to watch on TV.
But more recently, Modern Family, Cheers, Frasier… that sort of stuff. I really like smart American comedy.
Ambitions for a second series of Hospital People?
I’ve been around television long enough to know that whether I’ve got ambitions to do a second series is irrelevant. (Laughs)
For 25 years people have been coming up to me saying “Why aren’t you on telly?” – like it’s my decision not to be. If they ask me to do one, I’d happily do another series yes.
Any more live dates?
Absolutely. I’ve got no plans to stop doing them. I missed the wrap party for Hospital People because I had to get to a gig that Friday night that we finished so I had to jump in a car and head straight off.
It was kind of a shame… I was in the Caribbean!
Hospital People starts Friday 23rd April at 9:30pm on BBC One