After five long years in the making, Jamie Demetriou is finally able to take Stath Lets Flats from pilot to series and it was certainly worth the wait.
The character of Stath was first tested out as a Comedy Blap for Channel 4 in 2013 and it's taken until now for him to be given a full six-part series. But the good news is that during that process it was commissioned for E4 and before it even aired, bosses made the decision to promote it to Channel 4 where it will inevitably reach a wider audience. A real stamp of confidence in the project.
And rightly so, 2018 has been an incredible year for British comedy with This Country, Derry Girls, Inside No.9, Mum and Friday Night Dinner all doing great numbers and adored by public and critics alike.
Stath Lets Flats is almost certainly going to become the next British comedy everyone is going to be talking about and here's what its creator and star Jamie Demetriou had to say about the origins of the series, working with his sister and why he might never be able to view a flat again!
Where did the idea come from for Stath Lets Flats?
Well the idea initially was to come up with three characters for Channel 4's Comedy Blaps and even early on in my career I tried to draw on characters that were as fully formed as possible.
I had a London Greek voice that I went to instinctively and had been doing for a long time. Whether just mucking around or occasionally in university sketches.
We felt like the world of lettings would be a good foundation for it. I feel like a lot of Lettings Agents might feel after watching it that I have no idea what being a Lettings Agent. My entire experience is as someone viewing.
In a nutshell. What is Stath Lets Flats?
It's a comedy about a family run lettings agency and an incompetent Lettings Agent who needs to listen more than he talks.
The show is based in one of those lettings agencies that are ten-a-penny that you can pass a million times without knowing what sort of a business it is. It’s got a stupid name and it’s a stupid business as a result.
The show is about London Greek-ness and the way that looks and feels. And it’s about family, nepotism and the results of love. It’s primarily about a character named Stath who is for want of a better word an idiot. He’s someone who wants to be clever without learning. Stath is someone who assumed he must be amazing because it would be incredibly inconvenient if he wasn’t.
Is the character of Stath based on anyone? Where did your inspiration come from for him?
There are loads little isms from people that go into him and to be honest, not that many from my family. He's the combination of every sweet idiot I've ever met.
I think it's important when making someone as potentially loathsome as Stath that you give him some human redeeming qualities.
I definitely took a little bit of influence from viewings I did during the five years of writing it.
Were those viewings all for research or were they genuine?
Sometimes I was looking for flats but I did do some viewings for research. I got a lot of follow up emails pointing out that I'd been seeing a lot of flats, a lot of which met my brief exactly and asking "Where the hell are you?"
I don't know how I'm ever going to find a flat again. I can't work out if it's going to be something that the world of lettings will embrace or reject.
After the press release had gone out to say that the series was being made, I remember a Lettings Agent commenting on it saying "Oh brilliant. A TV show about a bad Lettings Agent. Heaven forbid they should do a TV show about a diligent hard working Lettings Agent like most of us."
And I was like "What the hell would that show be?! Wake up. Smash it. Finish the day. Done. Credits."
Are you in any way similar to Stath?
I hope not. But I imagine there's a little bit of me in him. We're both very unbalanced physically. We're both very wobbly boys.
I think we both talk without thinking sometimes, but hopefully the things that come out of me are less damaging!
He's probably insecure without realising it. I don't think he's aware of any of his defining characteristics.
The use of language is superb in the series. How did the writing process work between yourself and Robert Popper (Friday Night Dinner)?
Robert's main contribution was teaching me what it is to write story and to nail that side of things and how to make an episode flow. He pitched a couple of great ideas, in episode two for example he'd always wanted to do a joke about a team called "Midlow & Son" but the son is really old! So Midlow must be really really old.
But I think to be honest, it was just really useful to have someone there to bounce off of who was receptive but also good at critique. I had to go off and write the last few episodes on my own but by that point I'd learnt a huge amount from him.
Did you draw on any influences from other comedies for Stath Lets Flats?
I try not to consciously. I think there are little bits that inevitably slip in. Growing up I loved Father Ted and I think there's a certain quality about the characters where they are larger than life in many ways but I hope that they feel committed enough that you sort of believe them.
A big similarity between the two is this idea of getting really stressed out or excited about things that are really insignificant are things that I've drawn on from Father Ted.
It's a character comedy and I didn't really realise until recently that it's not that frequent an occurrence on British TV anymore. A lot of stuff tends to err on the side of the slightly more serious which if I'm being completely honest I probably enjoy more than big broad comedies that are out at the moment.
It just so happens that I've stumbled into making this.
Talk to me about that scene with the pigeon from the first episode. I would have been terrified!
I had the time of my life. That pigeon just stole the show. There were crew members that requested that they stood outside because they were so freaked out but it was a lot of fun.
I'm into improv and it's often quite difficult to squeeze it in to a scripted comedy because you have to make sure the story's working but when you have a pigeon in the room, I think the pigeon was one of the greatest improvisers of his time!
When you have something that mad hanging around you don't really have a choice but to go off script and do what feels natural.
How much input did you have into the opening titles? I think they sum up the show perfectly.
Ah thanks so much! That was Tom Kingsley, our director, who wanted it all to feel like that crappy font for the lettings agency. That blue and yellow that clashes so horribly was a guideline.
Did you have much say on the casting and do you write with actors in mind?
I find it easier to write for people. There are certain people who we found in casting like Kiell Smith-Bynoe who I think is absolutely brilliant. I think he's going be a bit of a star and if we get a second series certain characters will grow and he'll definitely be one of them.
I've been in the thick of this project for about six years now with Jon Petrie and Ash Atalla and Sea Barwell came on board to produce and we're a team so it would be weird if we didn't all have a say in the casting.
The casting has been the highlight for me because they're all people that I've wanted to see on TV offer and haven't necessarily seen that much of. Al Roberts is someone who I originally saw up at the Fringe and thought would be famous tomorrow.
Him and Tash, my sister, were the first two people that I wanted to be in this six years ago. Hence me calling Al's character Al. I wanted to make sure it was him because I find it so much easier to write for a voice than trying to create one in order to slot someone into it.
Even if I do, I hope that when that person does come in that they make it their own. Katy Wix plays Carole and the intention for that character was to embody that reality TV narcissist. Which is difficult because you don't want to make them loathsome. I'm constantly pitching for an episode where she applies to be on The Apprentice!
Do you enjoy working with your sister?
Oh man it was so lovely. It was real pinch yourself stuff. She just makes me cry laughing and there are little things that we'd both do in front of camera and it's mad to think that we were doing that stuff anyway when we were younger in the kitchen and annoying our dad whilst he was trying to burn some beef!
So this was the same thing except there's a camera there and we have to remember a few lines. I can't put it into words, it was out of this world.
We see Stath's father, we see his sister. Will we ever see his mother?
Well that's a question for series two so I'm going to keep that under my hat but we're talking about directions we could go in with that.
So you'd love to do a second series then?
Yeah, we've got some ideas and we're preparing ourselves for it as a possibility. I've been working on it for six years so I've got infinite ideas that we could put in. But obviously it's a first series so there's a lot of stuff I'm sure we'd do differently if we went again.
You put so much pressure on yourself for it to be the best thing you've ever made but the reality is I had no idea what I was doing. It's my first attempt.
Stath Let Flats was originally commissioned for E4 but now it's going straight to Channel 4. Are you pleased with that decision?
We're so happy that it's on Channel 4. It's a big stage which is nerve-racking but also unbelievably exciting and we feel very very lucky for the move. It's kind of unprecedented as well which is lovely.
You've been holding on to this for six years, how do you feel about finally having it all out there?
I'm just excited for the final degrees of the 360 to be complete. It's been a very very long road and you have various stages of limbo. There's the limbo of finding out whether or not you'll get a series and there's the limbo of writing it which also felt like it went on forever and then we finished editing it mid-January so I've just been stood still in my living room for six month just waiting for it to come out! (Laughs)
2018 is shaping up to be an excellent year for British comedy. What comedies have you been enjoying on TV?
This Country is brilliant and something that I've been wanting to see for a long time. I think Daisy and Charlie are out of this world good.
What's next for you?
I'm writing a few bits and pieces and I made a short film for Sky about a guy turning into a car so I'm trying to see if I can extend that idea. Inevitably I just want to have a varied career so I'm hoping to do the thing that's most different to Stath Lets Flats next... in order to maybe return to it!
From the experience of doing this series you do realise that writing stuff and performing in it yourself is the height of fun so I'd like to continue doing that in any way I can!