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I TALK TO Charlie Wernham

"I didn't want to be a part of something that was going to come back and not do the original justice and not give the fans what they want."

When the school-set sitcom Bad Education, created by and starring Jack Whitehall, first burst onto BBC Three in 2012, it ran for three series and a feature film, and many of its young cast, including Charlie Wernham, Ethan Lawrence, Layton Williams and Weruche Opia, have gone on to have incredibly successful careers off the back of it.

A surprise announcement by the BBC in May 2022 delighted fans when it was revealed that Bad Education would be returning for a brand new series and a Christmas reunion special in which Alfie Wickers reunites with his old students one last time before leaving the school, for a joyfully chaotic careers day.

Following a successful fourth series and Christmas musical special in 2023, we're returning to Abbey Grove for Bad Education's fifth series as Strictly finalist Layton Williams is back as drama teacher Stephen Carmichael alongside Mathew Horne as Mr Fraser, Vicki Pepperdine as headteacher Ms Hoburn and the incredibly talented actors making up the new Class K.

Also back as pupil turned PE teacher Mitchell Harper, is former Hollyoaks and EastEnders actor Charlie Wernham who this series, risks losing Kayleigh having spent their life savings on a wedding venue mix-up. And when a part in a gangster film goes to Mitchell's head, he's asked to swap jobs with Stephen! We can only imagine how THAT will go down!

Aside from starring in the new series, Charlie has also co-written his very first episode of Bad Education alongside co-writer Freddy Syborn. The episode, the first in this new series, sees Class K come to Mitchell's rescue, buy helping him fund his wedding by promoting a boxing match.

Charlie is just one of several breakthrough writers working with Freddy Syborn on Bad Education, including Anna Costello, Ava Pickett, Laura Smyth, Layton Williams, Nathan Bryon and Rhys Taylor.

I recently caught up with Charlie to discuss his initial reaction to Bad Education returning, working with Layton Williams and what it was like to co-write his first episode.

We also talked about the love he has for soaps and the possibility of a return in the future, whether he might be following co-star Layton into the Strictly ballroom and why 2024 is set to be a year of stepping outside of his comfort zone.

It’s been almost 12 years since Bad Education first aired. Did you ever think you’d still be here talking about it and starring in new episodes of it all these years later?

I certainly didn't think I'd be talking about it in regards to a new series. The original series did so well. Surprisingly well, because we weren't really aware of how many people watched it and enjoyed it at that age. And it became something that people still referenced sort of 7, 8, 9, 10 years on.

So to bring it back has been an incredible journey. But no, I certainly didn't expect a reboot and even if we did do it, I didn't expect a couple of series to come out and to be a lead in it.

When you first found out that Bad Education was coming back, what did you think? Was it an instant yes? Or did you have reservations about going back?

Jack called me out of the blue and asked me about it. He said "This is our idea' and initially I was super excited. Amazing. Jack knows what he's doing. So I had a lot of trust in Jack that it would be brilliant and funny.

But there was definitely some hesitation. One of the things I asked was "Who's going to be working on it creatively?" because it did do so well, and I didn't want to be a part of something that was going to come back and not do the original justice and not give the fans what they want.

It's completely different from the original. But there are still some elements that we've managed to carry over, and that's because of the creative team behind it. It's Freddy Syborn who co-created it with Jack Whitehall. He directs and they both produce it.

Obviously, they've kept me and Layton involved throughout the whole creative process, so we've tried to bring in old Bad Education, but also move it on and modernise it. Making it bigger, louder, better and crazier.

My only concern was that it might lose its edge. But I feel like we've got the balance right and I had nothing to worry about.

You must have been pleased with the reaction to the reunion episode and series four. From old and new fans.

I think that's it. There are obviously a lot of fans that liked the original who love the new series. And like you said, it's also captured a new audience. People who don't remember the original.

It makes me feel old, because everyone my age, only really references the old Bad Ed because there's a bit of nostalgia attached to it. But they're enjoying the new series and I think that's what it's all about.

With Bad Ed, it's not very thought-provoking, there aren't morals to every story. It's just a giggle from start to finish and I think that is what makes it different and what people are enjoying about the new series.

For anyone who missed the reunion and might have missed the last series, where did we find Mitchell then and where do we find him now, in this series?

So, Mitchell has grown up in age, but not in maturity. He has got a baby. He has a girlfriend in the reboot. When we meet him in the reunion, he's a delivery driver. And things happen which mean that he gets a place at the school, in the PE department. Probably the most unhealthy PE teacher you'll ever might meet.

He realises that actually, this is quite good. He gets a paycheck every month. What I love about him is he wants to make the right decisions, and he tries to keep some sort of order, but he's sort of the architect of his downfall really and creates more chaos than he tries to keep at bay.

This series, he's still working at the school. He's trying to do right by his family and keep his job down so he can pay for his kid and his missus who he loves, but he's clearly not very good and gets in a lot of bother.

But the pupils really like him, don't they?

Yeah, that's something we tried to do. We wanted to make sure that he had a lot of heart. He sees a lot of himself in the kids and tries to make his PE lessons fun. He doesn't want them to do anything they don't want to.

He's basically like Class President when one of the kids gets put in charge. "I'm gonna do this. We're gonna do that. We ain't gonna have to do homework. We ain't gonna have to do detention." He's a dream teacher for a kid who wants to get away with murder.

Would you have liked a teacher like Mitchell at school?

Yeah, absolutely! It would've been dangerous and against the law. But, I would have absolutely loved to have a teacher like Mitchell.

The difference between Mitchell now and then, is that he's got a lot more heart. There's a lot of love there and he really cares about the kids. He was always trying to act the big man back in the day so we see a softer side now. Which is fun.

Describe the friendship he has with Stephen now.

I feel they're like brothers. And I know it's a cliché, but it's the only way to describe them. They put each other through hell. They always think of themselves first. But when they take a step back, they absolutely adore each other.

It's just a really fun relationship to write for, to perform, to brainstorm ideas for when we're creating these stories, because they are completely different characters. You couldn't have two characters that are further apart in regards to their lifestyles. But when you get them together, it's just two worlds colliding. It's brilliant.

What's it been like reuniting with Layton Williams and working with him again?

He's brilliant. I love working with Layton. We have such a laugh. Although we worked together on the original series, we obviously work a lot closer together in the reunion and these new series. From the second we stepped on set, we just knew how each other works, and I think that is why we get through so many big ambitious days on these shoots, with a lot of demanding stuff.

Just look at how many costumes there are. How many stunts there are. How many people in the scenes there are. They're ambitious days and we work very well together and closely together to ensure we're on it and we also push each other. I love working with him. I have an absolute ball every day.

Did you watch Layton on Strictly?

I didn't know he did Strictly. No one mentioned it! No.... look, he was phenomenal. I knew he'd be good. I've worked with him for a long time and I knew there were a lot of things he didn't need to worry about.

However, once he stepped on there I realised just how technical what they do is, and how much of a reach it was for him. So when he absolutely went on to smash it, it made me even more proud of him.

It's so weird. I know I say, I know how good he is, but I was still heart in mouth every single weekend, being close to him.

But I couldn't be more proud, and what makes me so happy is I know how proud he is of himself. Forget winning. That didn't matter by the final. I don't think it bothered him. I just think to get as far as he did, and to win the public over, and to break as many Strictly records as he did, I know he's really happy with how it went. And I'm so buzzing for him.

Has he tempted you to give Strictly a go yourself?

Layton's been texting me saying "I've had a word. You're in next year." - Honestly, I was so nervous watching him, I can't imagine how nervous I'd be doing it. But then, again, I am one of them people that love to step outside of their comfort zone. So we'll see. You never know. Never say, never.

And you know I could give Les Dennis a run for his money. Let's see. That would be my benchmark. I think Layton said he wanted to get to week three or four. My goal would be, get past Les.

Talking about stepping outside of your comfort zone, you've co-written the first episode of series five with Freddy Syborn. What was that experience like?

It was incredible. I was in the writers' room for the first series - the reboot - and had always been involved in dialogue punch-ups on the day in the series when Jack and Freddy wrote it together. Which stood us in really good stead to take on more responsibility 10 years on.

It was absolutely incredible. I learnt so much. Just from all the other writers in the room. But then to sit down with Freddy, who I had never written with before, it was so relaxed and fun and easy.

And I don't want to say easy to put it down, but just because we knew the characters, the characters had been created, we knew all their voices, we knew what we liked from the last series and what we didn't like. So that stood us in really good stead to create something that we really thought was fun.

We're over the moon with the episode. I can't thank Freddy enough. I've learnt a lot which will stay with me forever and I hope to do more of that sort of stuff.

We've got to talk about the costumes in this series. Are there any you wish you didn't have to wear?

Not so much that, but there are definitely some "Oh my God!" moments. I feel like I get a bit of an easy ride with the costumes. When we're in the writers' room talking about ideas, I can see Layton scribbling away and I'm like "What you doing?" and he's like "I'm just writing down the costumes I'm going to wear for each of these ideas."

Even when we did the boxing episode, I don't know the costume count, but I think if there was a Guinness World Record there for how many costumes there were in a half-hour episode of a British sitcom. It has to win it. I think there are more costumes than scenes. Work that one out! And that's for Layton alone.

The costume department are brilliant and there's always a backstory to the costumes, in terms of "Where did this person get that from?" - "What is Mitchell's idea of Pretty Woman compared to Stephen's?" There's a lot of thought that goes into it instead of just grabbing a load of costumes and putting them on.

In the Christmas episode, when Layton as Stephen is doing the shipping forecast, dressed as a really snazzy admiral. There's a lot of thought from every department that goes into it and that is why we end up with such incredible-looking episodes.

What are some of your favourite moments from this series?

It's such a cliche, but there are so many, it's difficult to pick one. I'd have to say doing the boxing. Watching Harry (Marcus) and Ali (Hadji-Heshmati) who play Lucci Bantz and Warren do their boxing was absolutely incredible.

We did it all in one shot. There was a stunt coordinator, and there was Shay Barclay the choreographer, who choreographed it all. The sound department had music going and those two (Harry and Ali) went through absolute hell that day, throwing each other around.

Something I said was that I wanted the boxing to look a bit violent so you go "Oh, hang on. What's going on here?" They put themselves on the line and really went for it, so I can't thank them enough. I'm really proud of both of them.

But one of my favourite moments was probably mucking about with that plastic pig in Fraser's kitchen. It's just a moment where you kind of look at each other and go "This is our job." - "What did you do at work today, honey?" and it's like "Well, I was dressed up as Pretty Woman, watching Layton who was dressed up as Pretty Woman with my head inside a plastic pig's arse.

And you just think, that was your morning. And that's before 11 o'clock! That was a lot of fun. It was all brilliant, but that moment will stay with me forever. And not in a good way either!

You've been in two of the UK's biggest soaps, EastEnders and Hollyoaks. Can you ever see yourself returning to either? Neither of your characters are currently dead.

They're not dead yet. So I'm doing quite well. It's not a bad record, is it? I've always had a soft spot for soaps and it holds a warm place in my heart because it's something we'd done as a family when I was growing up. We'd always sit down and watch the telly and that's what'd be on. So soaps always hold good memories for me. And it brings a lot to a lot of households.

I don't know what the future holds in Soapland for any of my characters, to be honest with you. I know a lot of the shows are doing brilliantly and I have a lot of friends who are still in those shows. It's just brilliant to see so many good actors stepping into that world now. And old characters coming back. It's a bit like Bad Ed in that way, if you grew up watching a character and you see them come back, how much fun is that?

But no, I'm not sure what the future holds. I'm seeing that a lot of smashing it and I hope that they keep flying the flag for British soap.

What's next for you?

At the minute, it's just seeing the response from Bad Ed. Whether we do another one or not is something no one has any idea of yet. It's something I certainly would love to do. I think we can do one more. I think people would like to see it.

I've been doing a lot of writing and I'm directing a short film that I've written this year. Which I'm taking to film festivals as well. So I'll start shooting that next weekend. We've got a really good cast. We've got Stevie Martin and Jessica Ellis playing the leads so I'm really looking forward to that.

It's going to be a year of stepping outside my comfort zone and directing for the first time and being a part of that is going to be really fun.

Bad Education continues Sundays at 9pm on BBC Three with all episodes available now on BBC iPlayer


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