Ahead of the fourth series of Citizen Khan on BBC One, I caught up with writer, creator and Mr Khan himself, Adil Ray for a chat about the new series.
Adil Ray also writes the series and he was my very first interview for the blog, so it was lovely to be able to talk to him again to find out what's in store for series four.
Reaching four series of anything these days, especially in the UK, is rare. Citizen Khan is one of only a handful of comedies that have managed it.
Back when the series launched in 2012 it was met with some criticism, not helped by the 10:35pm slot, however the show got over that and very quickly found a very loyal audience, especially when it moved to an earlier slot on Friday evenings last year.
You're about launch a fourth series of Citizen Khan, that must feel good?
Yeah it does feel good. You see so many other shows that maybe only go for two series and you think, wow we are really fortunate. It’s hard work, and I think it’s testament to the channel for their support, and the audience who have consistently stayed loyal to us, so that’s pretty good.
You mentioned it there, but you’re right, a lot of comedies in the UK do stop at two, maybe three series. Did you ever think of not continuing Citizen Khan, or are you happy for it to go on and on?
Oh I’m very happy for it to go on and on. You put so much work into these things and it takes a lot of work, a lot of writing, the whole crew getting together and it takes time I think to really get into a zone.
You only get six episodes for a first series, so I think for us when we got past two we felt like we knew where we were, we knew who our audience is.
As you know, series one started at 10:30pm, the last series ended up at 8:30pm, and we’ve always felt that we would be a family show. That’s what we wanted it to be, to have a lot of kids watching.
So I think, only now do we feel like we’re where we want to be. Of course I was surprised, after two series the channel could have quite easily gone, “Thank you very much, but we want to try something new” – but lucky for us they didn’t think like that.
Thinking back to the first series, there was a fair bit of criticism for the series, would you agree that that’s kind of petered out a bit now?
Yeah I think so. There’s always going to be criticism. Comedy more than any other TV genre gets criticism because we’re so subjective. People will watch something that me and you might like, but they won’t like. And that’s always going to be the case.
So yes, there was a fair few criticisms for series one, but even know I’m absolutely certain that you put a laugh out loud studio comedy on television and some people just won’t like that genre, don’t like that format, so there’ll be people that won’t like it.
But lucky for us, there are plenty plenty more that do. That’s really important.
Citizen Khan definitely reaches a family audience doesn’t it?
Yes. I think the type of audience is really key for us. To be on BBC One, it’s important that we have a family audience and that’s what we try to aim to do.
Somebody on Twitter the other day said to me that Citizen Khan is one of the few shows, I think Doctor Who was the other one, that they sit down as a family to watch. The way she described it was “the only time her son comes out of his pit”.
That is a really nice place to be, and I think a really important place to be for the channel as well. We’re really chuffed.
On Friday I’ll be watching it at my mum’s, but I always invite my friends and cousins who have kids. I hate watching the show most of the time, but the time I really love watching it is when I watch it with kids and watching them laugh at it and copying the catchphrases. That brings me the greatest joy.
How much do you get recognised out and about? Because obviously you undergo quite a transformation to become Mr Khan…
Yeah I think so, more and more, because I presented The One Show recently and I did an episode of Pointless and didn’t realise how many millions watch that show!
So people will come up to you and say “Oh I saw you on that, and didn’t realise it was you playing Mr Khan” – but even today, there are people who are amazed that I am Mr Khan.
I suppose it is a bit of a transformation, two hours in make up and then this beard and glasses and hat which does so much of the work for me I think. But yes, still some people haven’t quite cottoned on to it.
What can we expect from the new series?
The good thing about being a family sitcom is that in a way, it can write itself. It’s not easy writing, but because it’s a traditional family in one sense, every family evolves.
So at the end of series three Shazia and Ahmed got married, and then for the Christmas special we fast forwarded about nine months and she had a baby, so suddenly Mr and Mrs Khan are grandparents.
So Mr Khan has to deal with becoming a grandparent, age and finding out what his role in the family is now.
The great thing now because the eldest daughter is married, you can define the two daughters more. The younger daughter is obviously the one who’s not married, so you we get the chance to go into her life a bit more this series.
We find out in one episode that she has a boyfriend, and it’s interesting how Mr and Mrs Khan react to that. It’s got to be really difficult for Mr Khan at the start, but in the in the end he does the right thing I think.
He’s a family man. At the end of the day, if there is a message to this show, it’s that Mr Khan in the end will do the right thing by his wife and two daughters. But we’ll have lots of fun along the way.
With the grandson, there’s an episode where Mr Khan thinks his grandson has magical super powers so he decides to use his super powers to try and predict the national lottery numbers!
Talk me through episode one…
In episode one they go off to a stately home, and that was great because we managed to bring Peter Bowles back to telly, an absolute legend.
I thought, we’ve got a character who’s a lord and Peter Bowles would be perfect for this. I hadn’t seen him on television for a while so wondered what he was doing, and thought why don’t we just try?
The director said OK, so we gave him a call and he asked to read the script, so he read it and said yes almost immediately. We were like “Oh my god that’s brilliant”.
To work with him was brilliant, and on set to talk to him about his life on TV, you know he was on The Manor Born, one of the biggest shows in the country at the time, so it was a real buzz to have him.
He plays a lord, and as you can imagine Mr Khan kind of sucks up to him and wants to hang out with him and hobnob with him, but it all turns out a little bit pear shaped!
But that was a great episode. We actually filmed it at a stately home and I think it looks fantastic, so I hope people will enjoy it.
Do you get out and about a little bit more this series?
Yes we have. As much as we can. We only get to do like a week of location filming so we work very hard doing that, but yes we’ve got a sequence in Birmingham in one episode where Mr Khan is trying to get fit so there’s a great fitness montage a la Rocky around Birmingham which was really fun to do.
For the Christmas episode we were out and about as well. The episode centres around a non-denominational winter wonderland festival at the community centre. Parts of that was filmed outside and we get a bit of magical license at Christmas so Mr Khan ends up doing something very festive in a very unreal way, but I think people will go with it.
Then there’s another episode where Mr Khan is trying to become a lollipop man at the local school so that he can get his grandson registered at the best school in Birmingham. There’s a lesson of how to be a lollipop man on a real street which ends up in quite tragic consequences! (Laughs)
And there’s a new actress playing Shazia this series?
Yes, Krupa Pattani came in to replace Maya Sondhi. I think Maya just wanted to go and do other things. We didn’t want to see her go, I think she’s an absolutely brilliant actress and we were sad to see her go.
I think after three series she felt she wanted to do other stuff, and I believe she is. She’s keen to write her own material as well. So we wished her well, and it happens all the time. We lost Kris Marshall after series one. The reality is that if you’re going to be recommissioned, you don’t always get the same cast back.
We lost Maya, and I was a little bit worried at one point because Maya was a fantastic actrees and a lot of the storylines are played out via Shazia, because out of all the characters she’s probably more like the audience I’d like to think. She’s got this bizarre family around her and manages to pull them back into some sort of reality.
She’s often the engine of the story, so it was going to be very difficult to recast, as it’s such a crucial part. We searched all over and there was one person who was completely in a league of her own, and that was Krupa.
She was absolutely brilliant. And I have to say, she has taken on this role and has probably brought something we never thought she could bring. Funnily enough, the live audiences have all made a point of saying how good she is.
We’re very fortunate that she’s joined us, and I hope the audience love her as well.
You mentioned the live audience there, what’s that like getting instant feedback to a joke?
It gives you lots of warmth. It’s a great buzz, it’s a great feeling. I’ve done the sketch show stuff with Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson when we did Bellamy’s People, but that was all on location.
But I had never done single camera, and having done this I wonder how single camera comedies know that things are funny!
Often you watch them and go, there’s weren’t that many funny bits in that 10 minutes I just watched.
With us, we do get that instant feedback. Often we record 33 minutes and it means that if some jokes don’t fire, we can take those out. Quite often we have to kill really great jokes because we are over and can only submit 29 minutes to the channel, but it means you can keep the best ones in, the ones that really worked.
Believe it or not, there’s a scene we’re editing at the moment where actually Mr Khan is telling too many jokes. He’s sat on the sofa and it’s just joke joke joke… and the audience were just going ballistic.
So with that you go, well it was great on the night, but perhaps it’s not going to transfer onto television as well, and might look a little bit self-indulgent. So because we can afford to, you can cut a couple of the jokes, and it feels a bit more naturalistic.
I cannot explain the feeling of performing in front of a studio audience is fantastic.
Aside from Peter Bowles in episode one, what other guest stars do you have this series?
In episode two we welcome Steve Furst, who I think is just brilliant. He comes from a really strong credible comedy background and massive theatre experience, so to have him on was fantastic.
Ronni Ancona joins us, and to have someone like Ronni is just brilliant. She was so much fun, part of the fun of having someone like Ronni on set was the fun and energy she brings to everybody, and she was working on the script with us and happy to change some things.
I had some great scenes with her, where we’d try different things, and because of her experience and the way she can deliver, it was great fun to do.
Tyger Drew-Honey from Outnumbered was with us as well, and Gary Pillai who was in EastEnders and more recently Game of Thrones.
It was quite a nice mix of people actually.
What other comedy are you enjoying at the moment? Do you watch much comedy?
I do, yes. I quite liked Cradle To Grave, which was more of a comedy drama, I absolutely loved
I really liked Car Share earlier this year, and I watched Chewing Gum the other day and I actually quite liked it. I didn’t expect it to be as sort of vulgar but actually I think it was great.
I remember thinking god, how do they get this actress to do this?! But of course she’s written it, and you could only really write that yourself if you were going to do that. I thought she (Michaela Coel) was tremendous.
I’ve also really liked People Just Do Nothing on BBC Three. It’s so real and I think they’ve tried really hard with story on that. There’s a danger that something like that can just be a series of vignettes and sketches, but it’s not like that.
They really invest time in some of the characters. That was a really good move for them, so yes, I think there’s some really great stuff around.