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I TALK TO Layton Williams

"I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit nervous. I didn't want to tarnish what has already been done."

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 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 special in which Alfie Wickers reunites with his old students one last time before leaving the school, for a joyfully chaotic careers day.

Now, after 8 years away from our screens, Bad Education is returning to BBC Three for its fourth series and this time former Class K pupils Stephen and Mitchell are in charge.

The new series has been written by a team of breakthrough writers, including Laura Smyth, Leila Navabi, Priya Hall, Ciaran Bartlett, Rhys Taylor and Layton Williams, with Nathan Bryon leading and former writer Freddy Syborn now directing and Jack Whitehall executive producing.

With Stephen and Mitchell, played by Layton Williams and Charlie Wernham, having both become teachers at Abbey Grove, the new series follows the unlikely duo as they get to grips with their new career and wayward students, all whilst new headteacher and control freak Ms Hoburn, played by Vicki Pepperdine looms large.

Since Bad Education helped to launch his career, Layton Williams has appeared in a number of television comedies including Benidorm and The Cleaner, starred alongside Billie Piper in I Hate Suzie Too and recently appeared as a guest on BBC One's I Can See Your Voice and a judge on ITV1's Queens for a Night.

Away from our screens, he wowed audiences on stage when he took over as Jamie in Everybody's Talking About Jamie, first in the West End, then on tour and more recently in LA.

As Layton Williams returns to our screens in the role that made him, the fabulous Stephen Carmichael in Bad Education, I caught up with him to find out more about the show's return, what it was like to be one of the writers on this series, where he thinks Stephen might be in 10 years time, his hopes for the future and more.

Did you ever think it would return and that you'd still be in it?

You know what? I really didn't. The only way I thought it could work for us to come back, was if we did a uni special. My brain didn't click enough to think it would be smart to let us be teachers. Maybe in my brain, I was thinking, I'm not old enough to come back as a teacher yet. But you know what, I am. It's basically what I do in my spare time, so I thought let's do it.

When you've had such a journey and such an experience with something, Bad Education was a lot of people's first thing and it was a fan favourite. If I was to go out on the street and ask anybody "What do you know me from?" it would be Bad Education.

You all know me from it anyway, so I might as well do it again!

Was there a part of you that was worried about coming back? Not every show that comes back does so successfully.

I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit nervous. I didn't want to tarnish what has already been done. The first couple of days after having the conversation with Jack (Whitehall) about it, I was talking to agents about it, asking them "Are you sure we're making the right decision?"

It was such a moment. I've got everything out of it that I wanted to. Tick. I'm doing great in my career so far. Sure, hopefully, things will continue. But then I thought, you have so much to gain by going back, spinning it on its head, being a teacher, putting yourself in different roles creatively, wearing different heads, so it was a no-brainer.

I get to come back to a show I know already has a fanbase anyway. People are already excited about it coming out because they love it. With new shows, it's quite hard because you have to put it out there and hope that people love it. But we already have a sense of excitement before it even comes out.

So, thinking positively about it, I trusted my talents, trusted the team and decided to just go and do my thing.

What was it like seeing everyone again for the Christmas special? Had you kept in touch with anyone?

We've all kept in touch in different ways, but we'd not been together fully as a cast because everyone's life is life-ing. I barely see my mum, you know what I mean? Never mind the cast of Bad Education every week.

So life has been busy but we have kept in contact. I went to Nikki's (Runeckles) wedding, who plays Chantelle with Kae (Alexander) who was Jing. We've been to each other's special moments. People have gone on to have children. I think there are maybe 5 actual Bad Education kids now. Actual children that have been born.

It was so funny, on the first day I was like "Put your hand up if you've got a child!" "Put your hand up if you've got a husband!", just trying to catch up on everybody's goss. I felt like a teenager again when everyone came back and within minutes we were straight back into our old ways. It was amazing.

What about stepping back onto the set of Bad Education?

It was a different set. It kind of always is, that's the magic of TV. My classroom is way different to what ours was. But they did make the set again for the reunion and me and Nikki had a scene where we sat in our old seats and they did up the classroom to replicate what it was like 7 years ago and we were like "Wow. How is this happening again?" - it was quite emotional actually.

For those who missed the reunion, what happened?

The reunion episode basically introduces the new characters and shows what the old characters have gone on to. Lots of them have gone on to do fabulous things and my character Stephen is basically trying to hide the fact that he is a teacher.

He's low-key ashamed of it. Which he shouldn't be, of course. Because he thought he was going to go on to be this massive star! And he is a star in his own sense, but things just aren't working out for him right now. That's all I would say.

So in the special, he's trying to live this double life while this reunion is happening. He's trying to see his friends and act all cool, but then his kids will come into the room and go "Sir, can you sign this?" and he's like "Go away!"

One of my favourite scenes actually, is when one of the kids walks in and he's like "Sir!" and Stephen goes "Oh, you want an autograph?" - honestly, how everyone kept a straight face in that scene, I'll never know. I don't know why, but I was just screaming. It was so funny! I don't know how much made it in, because it was carnage.

It also introduces Mitchell, Mr Harper as a new teacher and the new cast of kids which are my class and just as disobedient as the original Class K. But you know what? Such an amazing bunch. What a talented bunch of young adults. So professional. So on it. And it just reminded me of the love that we had. All so close. It was a pleasure to watch them grow through their characters.

Did they turn to you for any advice at all?

Yeah, I did feel like I was a bit of a mother hen with them. I'd take them under my wing. I would sort anything out if they needed help with anything. Sometimes when you're newish - I mean they've all done bits, but this is their first big moment - you don't want to speak up and I've always been the one to speak up about anything so I always had their back.

It was plain sailing. We had a really fab time. But you know little bits happen here and there and I'd go "Don't worry, I'll sort that out." I did feel like I wanted to look after them a bit. Not in a patronising way. Just because I'd been there, you know?

There were some things that we experienced the first time around - and we had an amazing time - that I wanted to make sure that anything that was not quite as fun on set, didn't happen with them. We had a really good time.

How important was it, to have that reunion episode at Christmas?

I think it was really necessary. Otherwise, it would be a bit confusing for everybody. I think people are still a little bit confused as to what's going on - "Oh we're getting a new season" - I don't think they fully understand that Jack's only there for the beginning, then it's Stephen and Mitchell taking over.

So hopefully the special spelt it out for people. And I think they get it. C'mon. It's time for new moments, new vibes and the special was a great way to thank the cast before. If it wasn't for them - (correcting himself) - us, this wouldn't be happening right now. So it was really nice for everybody to have their moment and then hand over the baton to these new, fresh Class K who make me and Charlie feel so old.

I remember there's a line about Geri Halliwell and one of them turned around and went "Who's Geri Halliwell?" and I was like "OMG!" Well, that'll do it!

What kind of teacher is Mr Carmichael?

He's very selective with his teachings. He barely teaches much of the curriculum. I think he has his own version of what the curriculum is.

At times, he is quite selfish because he would use the whole class to basically do what he wants to do to further his life. For example, if he has a self-tape, or if he has an audition, or if he needs to do his nails, or if he needs help dressing up - the class are basically there at the click of a hand, ready to do whatever he needs them to. "Take my coat!" "Take my glasses!" "Let's run around and do this foolishness."

It was so much fun because we did end up just running around. I said to these guys, "Why are we always running?" and I'm always in some uncomfortable boots or heels. I'm always layered, layered, layered. Always running, running, running. In the summer, summer, summer. So that was fun. But that's TV!

Do you think you'd have liked a teacher like Stephen yourself at school?

I would have loved it. I mean, I probably had teachers not too dissimilar to Stephen. He's very out there. He's very passionate about the arts of course. But when you're a teacher, maybe you should be giving opportunities to your students and not taking them all for yourself.

If a teacher was doing that to me, I'd be like "Erm, sir! I need a moment." - which rightly so, some of my students actually do.

When it boils down to it, he does love them a lot. He's just very self-obsessed.

I remember when I went down to set for series two, you said that you'd correct things in the script that didn't sit right. Was that similar this time around?

Back then I was working with about ten per cent of the script, whereas now I'm in a heavy 80 per cent of the script. I'm in so many more scenes. I did message Jack at one point and said "How did you do it?!" It'd be silly to receive seven scripts and try and learn it in one. The brain can't do that.

So I would get an advanced pack on a Friday and they would send me each scene that I was doing and I'd record my lines. Sometimes in a day, I would have seven minutes straight of just dialogue and I would just play it in speakers all around me. My neighbours must have thought I was so self-obsessed with my own voice. That is not the case. I was trying to learn my lines. I was so sick of my voice by the end of it.

This time around, the great thing about being in the writer's room, is that whenever something did creep up, all of our ideas were shared. So some moments that have actually happened in my real life, ie. when I teach my dance workshops if I walk into the room and I'm like "Hey guys!" and it's a bit crickets, I go again - and I actually hate to admit it because it's so embarrassing, but that is real.

What was it like being part of the writer's room for Bad Education?

That was one of the highlights, for sure, because you get to really be involved in the creative process of not just your episode, but the whole arc of the story. What these characters are going through. How they all piece together. A storyline. B storyline.

I'm going to be completely honest, I didn't really know what I was doing, but if you write what you know you'll be alright. And Stephen's been in me for a decade that it was so natural for me.

The only note that I had from our director and producers etc. after we handed in our first script - me and my co-writer Rhys (Taylor) - was "Erm, we would love to know a little bit more about Mitchell's arc. We've got a lot of Stephen!" - I've subconsciously become Stephen in my writing. "I wonder how we should open this scene?" - "Ooh, a monologue from... Stephen." - so funny.

There are two times, where there's a scene with me and Mitchell and he didn't even have a mic on! He's like "How is this a two-hander scene when I don't have a mic?" All I'll say is, all will be revealed in the episode because there's a definite reason why he doesn't speak too much. Dot dot dot. You'll find out.

Charlie Wernham is back as Mitchell. What's the dynamic like between Stephen and Mitchell in this series?

Charlie is back with a vengeance and he is as funny as ever. We had so many moments where we could barely get through scenes. It was lovely having our little bromance moment together. We're an unlikely pairing - as people and as characters - but they really love each other and have each other's backs. They're like siblings at this point.

When you grow up with someone, even if you don't have too much in common, that love that you share when you're in a group or a class together, it doesn't go away. So this has really solidified Mitchell and Stephen's friendship.

There are some rivalries here and there. They do get a bit competitive. But he absolutely smashed this season. So so funny and I loved being beside him, taking the mickey out of him and watching him grow.

Mathew Horne is also back as Fraser. What's it like working with him again? I can't imagine it's easy not to laugh.

I must say, I'm really good at not corpsing. If I'm laughing, it's carnage. I've had to train myself. And he said the same thing actually the other day. When you've worked with Catherine Tate, you really have to get it together. You can't be laughing.

So he is good at not corpsing. And I'm good an not corpsing. But other people will be laughing because of him. You'll just see shoulders go. Luckily, sometimes, if you're off-camera, you can get away with it. But he's just so funny. He doesn't even have to say anything. His expressions. What he does with his face. He is such an amazing character actor and again, an amazing person.

I'm not just saying this. Me, Charlie and Mat, sometimes on a Friday after a shoot, we'd go to our little local pub, get a couple of drinks in and just have a good old reminisce on the week. He's been really supportive actually of me and Charlie stepping into being leads this time, and kind of taken us under his wing. We love Mat.

And Vicki Pepperdine. What an excellent addition to this series as Abbey Grove's new Headteacher Ms Hoburn. What's she like to work with? And do she and Stephen get along?

What an absolute hun. Vicki is such a legend. Of course, we're all quite tight and have our things, so she's stepping into something that's already quite established, but has the right energy to come into the show. So dry. So no bullshit. And it's hilarious because she doesn't have a clue what sometimes Mitchell, and most times Stephen, comes out with.

Stephen is such another world to her that she just has to put up with him. Stephen is low-key a little bit scared of her because she is his boss, but he does like to sweeten her up a bit here and there. Throw her a few compliments. Sweeten her up, butter her up. I think everyone can do a little compliment to get through the day. Stephen knows how to play with that character. Ms Hoburn is a great new character to add to our production.

What were some of your favourite scenes in this series?

Not to give too much away, but I did love filming some of our extra musical-type numbers. It would be ridiculous for people not to think that there's going to be singing and dancing, because HELLOOOO!

No joke, at one point when we were putting all of the episodes up on the wall in the writer's room, whether it would be a play or spoken word or a dance piece or a musical, there was a performance element in almost every episode. So we were like "Maybe something's gotta bite, because this is not Glee." There are still a lot of performances, but we've definitely chosen the right ones.

Without giving too much away, the final episode, some of the musical numbers that we are performing and what they're based on, are absolutely hilarious!

And you also choreographed the show, right?

Yeah. As well as writing, I got to choreograph the numbers across three different episodes because I thought, you know what, I can do that. Let's be honest, it's what I do. I'm very in tune with my body and I know the creatives on Bad Education more than any other choreographer would. I know their vision. I know our vision. Let's just get it done.

The reason I wanted to do it was I knew how to link the performances in so that it didn't feel like suddenly we were doing a musical number. It was all within character. A few weeks in, when push comes to shove, time is of the essence and I would have had these relationships with Class K, so who better to put them through their paces, choreography-wise, and get them into shape, than literally their teacher?

Everything needed to look SHARP. So it was great to get to play teacher for a bit.

10 years from now, where do you see Stephen?

I hope Stephen does find a full love for whatever he's doing. If that's continuing to be a teacher, I hope he's a little less self-indulgent and really gives his kids back something that he's genuinely great at. He's a bit of an overacter sometimes, but he can dance, he can sing, he can do his thing. So maybe Stephen is going to run with his passion but give it back fully to his students. Maybe he'll have a drama school somewhere.

Or maybe he'll be in Hollywood and we'll film another season out there. Thank you very much.

What do you enjoy watching on the telly?

I've just binged through Wednesday on Netflix which was just amazing. It was so good. Right up my street. A little bit camp. And the fact that she didn't blink for entire scenes, I don't know how she did that?! I only noticed it a couple of episodes in.

I need to get back into The Crown, mostly for the education of what has actually gone on here. Obviously, it's always in the news, the craziness that's going on, and I won't even comment on THAT! But, whenever I was watching it, I'd pause and Google to see what was true and what was not. I loved that. I love a little history lesson.

Oh... I LOVED Selling Sunset. I did not think it would be something I would enjoy, because I don't really do shows like that, but lockdown had us all locked up so I thought "Stick this on. Let's watch what the rest of the world is watching." I had the most amazing night with Christine (Quinn) at this Vogue dinner a couple of days ago and no word of a lie, she was the sweetest - probably one of the kindest, most genuine celebrities I've met in a long time - and I was thinking, this is hilarious! We spent all night together. She's so nice!

What's next for you? You were brilliant in I Hate Suzie Too by the way.

Thank you. I'm just manifesting more moments. If this year continues to be like it has been already, I think things are going to potentially get really exciting. I just want to keep my feet on the floor. Stay grounded.

I'm starting my new year in LA again because that's where I was last year when I was in the writer's room (for Bad Education) and it was such an inspiring place to be for a new year. And my best friend is doing a show out there so I'm going to stay and enjoy and relax.

Hopefully, if we do another Bad Education, then great. I've not been on stage for a long time now, so maybe my return to the stage is pending. But honestly, I'm happy, I'm healthy, I've just bought a new flat and I've got enough to be renovating.

I just want more moments. Life as well, you know, not just work driven. Friends, family - life is so short, so I'm just here to have a good time. Here for a party!

Bad Education returns Sunday 15th January at 10pm on BBC Three with all episodes available at launch


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