I caught up with one half of the Bluestone 42 writing team James Cary (Miranda and My Family), to see how the series came about and what he makes of the controversy so far.
BBC Three are wasting no time in rolling out their latest sitcom of the year, Bluestone 42 which follows on from the latest series of Pramface and the first series of Way To Go, both of which have now come to an end.
Bluestone 42 is written by James Cary & Richard Hurst and in a similar situation as Way To Go, the series has come under a bit of controversy as it's set in Afghanistan at a time where we have soldiers out there fighting every day.
You call yourself ‘Sitcom Geek’. How much of a sitcom geek are you?
The name came about because I used to run a group of writers and wannabees that we dubbed ‘Sitcom Geeks’.
We met up every month or so to watch and talk about sitcoms and think about what made them work – or not work (We watched Goodbye Mrs Noah one time, which, as a sitcom, didn’t work – a rare failure from the High Priest of sitcom himself, David Croft).
Eventually, we all got busy, I had kids and it all got a bit difficult. But when I started to blog on the subject of sitcom, it seemed the most obvious available name.
So was it a conscious decision to get into sitcom writing?
Since leaving Uni, I’d always wanted to write comedy – all different kinds. It was through writing things like Think the Unthinkable for Radio 4 that I realised that my skills were best suited to the half hour narrative format. I’d love to be one of these guys who writes zingers for Have I Got News For You, but I’m just hopeless at that sort of thing. For me, jokes are always bound up with character and context.
What's Bluestone 42 all about?
It’s about a bunch of soldiers who spend all their time together, and really enjoy being soldiers. It’s obviously hard – and incredibly dangerous – but most soldiers relish the challenge of using their training where it matters.
We found that a bomb disposal unit would be the most interesting area to look at so that’s what Bluestone 42is – the call sign for a Counter IED unit in Afghanistan.
How did the idea come about?
Richard Hurst and I had seen lots of documentaries and movies about the war in Afghanistan but none of them reflected what is a key part of being a British soldiers, which is having a sense of humour. We wanted to write a show which demonstrated how they get through another day at the office.
Now there’s already been a bit of controversy around this sitcom with The Sun quoting “uproar from military families”. How do you feel about this and is it justified?
It is to be expected and is completely understandable. For some families this is clearly a painful subject and therefore the show might not be for them.
When we received some complaints when the pilot was announced, our exec producer went to them, visited them and listened to what they had to say. And showed them the finished article – which they were broadly positive about.
Because this is such a contentious area, it just made Richard and I doubly keen to make sure we showed proper respect to our serving soldiers by getting as much detail right as possible. So we spent two and half years researching the show.
Do you think people are offended to easily these days? Or complain for the sake of it?
Different people are all offended by slightly different things. And respond to being offended in different ways.
The BBC are supposed to be making programmes that are challenging and interesting – and are criticized for blandness. And are then criticized for causing offence.
In fact, the BBC are criticized for everything. They can’t win, really. But I think the BBC are criticized so heavily because we, as a nation, care about television so much and want the BBC to be excellent. And overall, that’s a good thing.
Isn’t the point of comedy that it breaks taboos?
Not really. The point of comedy is to be funny. Exactly how you go about doing that is up to you as a comedian. Moreover, breaking taboos in itself isn’t funny – you have to do it in an interesting and comedic way. Simply saying the unsayable isn’t inherently comic. But it may be prophetic or tactless.
Considering the topic, and the apparent controversy, was it hard to get the actors to agree to being a part of it?
Not really. Actors tend to relish the chance to play unusual characters or off-beat situations.
Why should people tune in and not be afraid of laughing at soldiers in Afghanistan?
The trailers look good, don’t they?
They do and I've seen the first episode and really enjoyed it. What’s next for you then?
Hopefully more Bluestone 42. I’d love to write some more. I’d also like to write a more mainstream studio-audience sitcom since that’s probably my natural habitat. But we’ll see what happens.