"We've always said that there should be heart at the centre of what we make. Because without that, you don't believe in the characters."
Lee and Dean started out as a YouTube taster in 2015, before Channel 4 committed to a five-part series in 2017 which aired in 2018 and now it's back for a six-part second run continuing to centre around the lives of Stevenage builders and childhood friends Lee and Dean.
Miles Chapman who plays Lee, produced series one and writes Lee and Dean together with Mark O'Sullivan who plays Dean and also directs whilst Sam Underwood completes the writing trio and plays Little Dean.
Following the rather explosive stag and hen weekends at the end of series one, the second series follows the boys, their friends and exes, as they try to re-build their lives.
Over a beer in Soho one evening, I caught up with the brains behind and faces of Lee and Dean, Mark O'Sullivan and Miles Chapman to find out more about the hit Channel 4 comedy.
How did you two first meet?
Miles: My wife and Mark's wife were best friends at school. I subsequently met my wife and then Jenny, Mark's now wife, met Mark in around 2004 and said "You must meet my friends Miles and Jill" so that's how we met.
We immediately realised that we had a very similar sense of humour. I've got quite a dark humour and so does Mark and we suddenly discovered that we're like peas in a pod really.
Mark: We were doing totally different things. I was a secondary school teacher...
Miles: ...and I worked in insurance for years and then latterly worked at Which? magazine. The pair of us then took the plunge and started writing together.
They say it's better to write with someone else...
Miles: It's interesting. Some people do write alone and there's a sense of less interference but the good thing about writing together is that we tell each other whether something's funny or not. We're each other's litmus.
And we've got a third writer, Sam Underwood who writes Lee and Dean as well and Sam is our ultimate litmus really. He's got a cracking sense of humour and he's a great writer. If he laughs, it stays in. If he just sits there with a blank face, it's gone!
Why choose to focus on two builders for your first sitcom?
Miles: Mark and I always muck about with characters and create them together, so Lee and Dean actually started as Namibian canoe instructors called Deeta and Patch. So there's quite a
seismic leap between that and who Lee and Dean became.
The genesis was two blokey blokes who get very drunk, fight each other every night and then end up in an embrace - pushing away their sexuality. We thought canoe instructors was quite niche, so then they became these two geezers that worked in a factory and then we suddenly thought "Perhaps they're just builders?"
And then the names Lee and Dean seemed to come quite naturally to us. It just went from there. I had some building work done at my house and the stuff these builders came out with was just so brilliant that I thought - we'll use that as the top layer and actually what we want to do is subvert it.
There's so much more to everyone isn't there? So we thought we'd subvert what people's expectations are of builders. Like the bark rubbing and the fact that Dean is in love with Lee.
When did Channel 4 get on board?
Mark: Channel 4 got on board with it right from the get go. We started by making our own little films and putting them on YouTube and the first one we made, Flavours, got picked up by Channel 4 really quickly and we ended up developing that.
But when that came to an end and they didn't want to take that any further, they asked us "What else have you got?" and we'd just made this little taster for Lee and Dean for about £100 so we showed them that and Channel 4 said "Why don't you set up your own production company and we'll commission you directly? We really like it when you make your own stuff." which was amazing and that's when we set up Bingo.
They've definitely helped to shape the series but they've mostly left us to it.
Miles: And Channel 4 were on board with the fact that builders are quite a universal thing. No matter what class you're from, you've probably encountered what builders are like. It's a world that people maybe think they know. So that was a nice starting point.
How different was that taster to the series?
Mark: The YouTube taster was very very different. Lee and Dean, especially Dean, are quite different characters. When we made the pilot for Channel 4, we knew that we wanted to throw a cat amongst the pigeons and that would be a girlfriend for Lee. A sudden threat to the status quo.
Then when we added in Mrs Bryce-D'Souza, Anna Morris' character, that was another cat amongst the pigeons and added in the class element which we love exploring.
One thing that's stayed the same is that the builders aren't actors, but your real-life mates...
Miles: That's right, they are! That was necessity because when we made the taster and subsequently the pilot, we didn't have a huge amount of money so we thought we'd just get our mates in to play the parts. And actually, Mark and I naturally surround ourselves with people who make us laugh.
Mark: And Anna Morris.
Miles: (Laughs) Yeah, and Anna Morris. It's been hard... (Both laugh) I don't think we expected that to be an ongoing thing. Mark Sharp who plays Shitty Mick is my oldest friend. I've known him since 1986. Sean Miller who plays Sheets works in our office and Eoin McSorley who plays Nightmare is a friend you (Mark) met at birthing classes.
All we say to these people is "Just be as you are" - Nightmare is not really a million miles away from Eoin is he?
Mark: We have a little rule on set, because I direct it as well, "If you feel yourself acting. Just bring it back a bit" that's really important for the show.
What I loved about the first series is that it's a largely unknown cast. Were you or Channel 4 ever tempted to have a big name guest star or series regular?
Mark: To begin with, Channel 4 were saying "What about getting this person or that person?" and we resisted it as much as we could.
Miles: Well if you look at The Office, I remember reading somewhere that Ricky Gervais did audition known actors who could have been great for the parts. But he said that his issue was, that they were making a mock documentary so people would just go "Why is so and so working in an office? I mean, I hate the phrase mockumentary...
Mark: That's one of our regrets actually. That we ever let the word mockumentary leak into how Lee and Dean was described. I'm not for a moment comparing our show to the incredible Modern Family, but Modern Family has talking heads but you don't call it a mockumentary and you don't question what the situation is. I'd hope that we're in that sort of place.