"I wanted a show about just before reaching puberty, exploring how I was clearly giving off big bloody hints that I was gay, but didn't really know it."
This week sees the launch of Changing Ends on ITVX, the new six-part sitcom based on comedian Alan Carr's life growing up in Northampton in the 1980s as the son of a Fourth Division football manager and co-written by Alan Carr and Simon Carlyle.
Alan stars as himself in the present day, whilst Oliver Savell takes on the role of young Alan following an extensive search for the right actor to play him and playing his parents, Graham and Christine are the wonderful Shaun Dooley and Nancy Sullivan.
Described as more than just a trip down memory lane and a love letter to a time and a town where things weren’t always so inclusive, Changing Ends follows Alan’s journey through puberty, adolescence, and finally self-discovery, all against the backdrop of Thatcher’s Britain.
I recently caught up with Alan Carr days after ITVX's big comedy launch to discuss some of the creative choices made in Changing Ends, how he approached the idea with his parents and also what viewers can expect from the new ITV1 talent show Mamma Mia! I Have A Dream.
First of all, I've watched the first two episodes and loved them both. Can't wait to see more! So congratulations.
Oh, thank you. Thank you so much. I did an interview the other day and I started crying. It's been so long in the making and it's so personal.
A, I co-wrote it. And B, it's about me. I'm opening a little window into my life, so I'm really nervous but it really means the world when people say they're enjoying it. Did you see how emotional Shaun (Dooley) got (at the screening)?!
Would you say this is the most personal project you've ever taken on?
Yeah, I mean with stand-up, when I do my tours, I obviously talk about my life and then there's a comedy twist to it. And this sitcom is funny, but it's got lots of heart, opening up and putting my heart on my sleeve.
I cried watching the bullying scene at school. It's been an emotional rollercoaster. It's been like being on a Waltzer, everything's flashing by and I've never done anything as personal as this. I've dug deep for this one. It has been a really hard summer.
I was nervous about my mum and dad because they're getting on a bit now. My mum's in her late sixties and my dad's 78 and I didn't want to portray him as this hard northern... I mean, things have changed so much now with sexuality and identity and everything. He definitely was this tough-talking northern manager in the 80s, but I didn't want to throw him under the bus, as it were.
How did you approach the conversation with them about doing the sitcom?
I teased my mum. I said "Mum, you're very manly, you've got those broad shoulders, you've got facial hair, we will have to have a man play you" and she said, "Oh piss off!" Then my dad was just intrigued really.
When I showed them it, my mum said, "Oh, isn't it funny?" and my dad said, "Oh, isn't it sad?" which is very interesting.
And then Max and Isla, my nephew and niece, were like "Were you really bullied at school? Did it really happen?" - they've got their iPads now so they're looking at all the stuff I've been doing - with parental guidance of course! "Why were you dressed as a woman?" "Why were you dressed as a giant poo?" - and I just say "I have to pay the bills!"
How long had you had the idea for Changing Ends before it was made?
About five years. It started off with my book and it was actually the BBC that gave me the idea for it. Then of course you tell people that you're a camp son and your dad's a tough-talking football manager and they go "Oh that'll write itself." and you're like "No it doesn't. It really doesn't."
It's been a trying five years, and when ITV gave me money for three scripts they said if you can't find a young Alan, we're not going to give you any more money for the six. It's never going to get out there. That was heartbreaking.
Ollie (Oliver Savell, who plays Young Alan) was in the last batch of auditions and when we saw him, we closed the door and went "That's him!" and it was the same with my mum (played by Nancy Sullivan) and I'm a big fan of Shaun Dooley so I did think about him.
I got a whole load of showreels from about 25 actresses and I as soon as I saw Nancy Sullivan, I went "That's my mum!" - completely unknown, she's done Les Mis and stuff, but not big parts, especially on screen, so I really hope this gives her so much confidence because she's absolutely brilliant.
Did Oliver come to you during filming for advice or to seek approval on his performance?
He was just brilliant, so professional. He's so brilliant at learning lines. He must have a photographic memory. He was just brilliant, so professional. The really silly thing was, there are a lot of 80s references that he couldn't really understand, so he'd ask me about that which of course, made me feel really old!
Then I'd be sitting on a chair going "Microwave!" and "Dobermann" and he'd repeat it back to me because he wouldn't say certain words right because of course he's so young. Which added another layer of surrealness to the whole thing.
And you narrate parts of Changing Ends in vision. What drove that decision?
I didn't want to be in it. I wanted to just write it and put it out there, but as a narrator, I'm looking at it with eyes from 2023, which added another texture and another layer in which I could add an aside or commentary on the 80s. It's quite useful for satire and poking fun at the 80s and stuff. Without me there, it's just a sitcom set in the 80s without any comment on the craziness. You look like cavemen now, looking back.
I remember when Dad would transfer footballers over, we'd just be standing in the hall, waiting for this fax to come through and that noise! Nowadays, it's done in the blink of an eye, it's just an email. You can scan things into your phone! So I thought that just added another layer to have this wise voice from 2023, looking back. It works, doesn't it?
Absolutely. It works very well. When it came to creating the sitcom, how did you narrow the period down to that transition between primary and secondary school?
Listen, I love The Inbetweeners and everything like that. There have been a lot of shows about puberty and teenage kids, but I wanted a show about just before reaching puberty, exploring how I was clearly giving off big bloody hints that I was gay, but didn't really know it.
I wrote to Jim'll Fix It to meet Wonder Woman, and I would turn the football over to watch Murder, She Wrote - there's lots of humour there and of course, I didn't know that I was giving off these massive signs. I didn't know!
Also, I wanted to do it pre-watershed because if there are any camp kids out there who don't feel they fit in, they can sit down with their mum and go "It will be alright."
What were some of your favourite scenes to write and then see brought to life by such a wonderful cast?
In every episode, there is a massive grain of truth. The county ground was condemned, I did hear the ice cream van, but couldn't find my shoes, so I ran out in my mother's stilettos! That's another thing. Talking about this complete unawareness of what that looks like and that woman walking past going "That's Graham's son." Everything that was real, I loved watching back.
The props people and the sets, it was so surreal. I mean, my bedroom was exactly like my bedroom. It was the same carpet. It was the same telly. It was so weird. Like an out-of-body experience.
How did the writing process work between you and Simon Carlyle?
I'm not going to lie, and he will say the same thing, when we're in a room together and bouncing off ideas we have the same sense of humour and just cackle away. But with Covid, unfortunately, there were a lot of emails and Skype and Zoom which is not how I like to work.
But we made it work and then once Covid was out of the way we were able to get into the same room together and he's really professional and wanted to do the best job he could do. We kept going over and over it.
What a joy working with him! And he's got the same type of story, you know - camp kid at school - so I didn't have to explain much to him. He knew.
What are you hoping people will take away from Changing Ends when they watch it?
I think this has got really good, big laughs in it so I just want people to laugh, but as well as tickling your funnybone, I also want it to pull on your heartstrings and make you think. If there is someone in your class who is a little bit different, then maybe think about giving them a second chance.
Where does this sitcom take us and what might a future series look like?
In real life, Dad turned it around and instead of people shouting "Graham Carr you're shit!" he was being asked to open Co-ops and then the boys at school started liking me and inviting me over to tea and my mum started becoming more of a WAG. She started looking more and more like Prince as the decades went on. Her wardrobe started getting more and more fancy.
So if it does get recommissioned, let's hope, I already know where it's going to go. They're going to be very nouveau riche. My mum starts getting a dishwasher and showing off. I think the hair is going to get bigger!
Do you think you might - similar to what Sally Wainwright did with Happy Valley - wait a number of years for Oliver Savell to grow up and make a series of Changing Ends set in more recent times?
Oh my God, that's like something from Inception! I can't even get my head around that. All I want for Ollie, is I want him to be this big star. I really would be disappointed if in 20 years' time, I open the paper and there's a headline that reads 'Being Alan Carr Ruined My Life'.
What's next for you then? You're about to film Mamma Mia! I Have A Dream for ITV1, is that right?
Yes! I'm looking out of the window now and it's pissing it down, so I'm looking forward to spending a month in Greece. I know Jessie Ware, and I know Zoe Ball. I don't know Amber Riley or Samantha Barks, but it seems like a really good team.
It's one of those things - a fun show, in the sun with Abba and they've got some really interesting and different concepts. I was really relieved when I had my Zoom call and they said it was going to be different to anything we've seen before.
Which is good because I think there is a bit of cynicism now with these talent shows, but they're really addressing it and putting some really interesting spins on it.
After what I've been through with the sitcom, it'll be nice just to do something light and frothy and listen to Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! again and again and again.
Changing Ends launches Thursday 1st June on ITVX