I talk to Nick Helm about the final series of Uncle, BBC Three’s move online and what he’ll miss most.
BBC Three have delivered a lot of sitcoms over the years, both as a linear channel and as part of its new online offering. Many have gone on to be big hits, others haven’t. One that is universally loved by those who have seen it, is Uncle, which is returning for a third and final series.
It’s been four years since man-child Andy, played by Nick Helm, forged an unlikely alliance with nerdy nephew Errol, played by Elliot Speller-Gillott.
Series three takes place eighteen months since Andy found out that he was going to be a father, and the baby he’s never met is haunting his nightmares. But is he ready to be a dad? And why do people count baby ages in months anyway?
As he tries to work up the nerve to confront Teresa (Raquel Cassidy) about their child, he’s distracted by an offer from a record company executive that puts his artistic integrity to the test and makes him think about what really matters.
Meanwhile Errol butts heads with Bruce (Daniel Lawrence Taylor) as he figures out how to live under the same roof as his mum’s new partner and Sam (Daisy Haggard) contemplates motherhood.
We’re talking about a third series of Uncle. First of all, congratulations. Secondly, are you surprised it’s lasted this long and has been so successful?
Yeah, I mean we only made a pilot originally on Channel 4 and they didn’t want a series. So we were like “Oh OK. Well it was nice to make a pilot. It was nice to make a show. People liked it.” and then we just thought that was it really.
Then Shane Allen moved over to the BBC and he gave us a whole series for BBC Three. I think it was quite a while before we found out whether or not we had a second series and it was good that everyone liked that and then because BBC Three went online, it took ages to find out whether we were going to do a third series or not. For a long time, it looked like we weren’t.
And the second series ends on a cliffhanger, so it felt a little bit like it was going to be one of them unanswered cliffhangers that you get in TV sometimes when shows don’t get recommissioned. Nothing’s really certain in this industry.
As a comedian, I split audiences. Some people like me, some people hate me and this is one of the few things that I’ve done that is universally well liked. Everyone seems to like Uncle so I’m incredibly proud of it.
People think I write Uncle, I don’t. I write the songs for Uncle but the people who think I write Uncle as well is bewildering really because it says at the beginning of each episode who writes it.
How do you feel about this being the final series of Uncle? Does it feel like the right time for the show?
I think, because it’s about family people go “Oh, well the little boy has grown up now”. And yeah, he has. But it was never really about a little boy, it was always about an uncle and a nephew and their relationship together.
The good thing about all three series is that their relationship has evolved with each series. If they wanted to, they could have carried Uncle on for a few more years but they decided to leave it at three and I think that’s good too.
It’s the best of the three series and I feel like they’ve learnt with each series. The first one was more grounded and then in the second one they went on quite a lot of adventures and I think the third series is the best of both worlds, where there’s something different in each episode. And there’s something different in each episode that you haven’t seen in the other series so it’s kind of like they’ve built on what they had and they’ve turned it into a really good show.
It’s a really good show. I’m really proud of it.
What's the relationship like between Andy and Errol in series three?
Mentally, they’re pretty much equals now. They’re both children that are ready to grow up. I think that all the way through it, Errol has been a very serious neurotic grown-up in a child’s body and Andy’s kind of been an immature sort of man child.
Now, I think that Andy has realised that that’s not the path to happiness. He’s come to the realisation that he’s got to grow up at the same time that Errol is. So they kind of go through that together. I think it’s a really interesting take on it.
In the first series, Andy began to realise that there’s more to life than just himself and in the second series, him and his nephew have quite a lot of sparring with each other. In this series, they’re equal and they’re rivals in some episodes as well so they’re kind of equal rivals. Before, one of them was learning from the other one, and now they’re going through stuff together and I think that’s really nice.
There are some great comedians in the new series. Can you say anything about who you’ve got?
We’ve always had good comedians come in. For example, in the first series we had Brett Goldstein in it, who is one of my really good friends. In the first episode of the new series we’ve got Matthew Crosby in it from Pappy’s, Mae Martin is in the first episode, Dylan Moran is in the first episode... Oh yeah, so there’s a lot of comedians in the first episode!
I think it’s good. It’s always really nice to have some of your friends in and show them around the set, introduce them to everyone, make sure they know where to go for lunch and all of that stuff.
My best mate, David Trent is in an episode. He’s in an episode with Amanda Abbington and she’s an amazing actress. Amazing. And I just think it’s quite funny that she’s in a scene with my best mate who’s never really done any acting before. How jammy can you get?!
You’ve been working with Elliot Speller-Gillott who plays Errol since he was 11. What’s it been like working with him?
Yeah, he’s just turned 16 and we’ve always just got on. When we started, he used to be very, not quiet, but quite quiet, and we’d have lots of scenes where were in a car together but there are cameras bolted to it and crew all around and we’d be driven around on a low-loader.
So we’d be in there for hours and we’d start chatting. We both like music and he likes comedy and shows on TV and stuff, but he was really interested in music so we’d talk about that. He was discovering new bands like Pulp that his parents used to listen to, and that would make me really depressed about how old I was!
In the four years that we’ve known each other we’ve become good friends now. He’s in a band and I’ve been to see them play live a few times. His bandmates in real-life play a few of his friends in the show a bit later on.
I’m working on a show now called Loaded with Channel 4 and I’m with three other actors, three other men, who are all my age and it’s weird because we’ve got lots in common and chat in between takes and all of that stuff.
But on Uncle we didn’t get to hang out as much because he had to go for tutoring in between takes, but I’ve watched him grow up. He was tiny when we did the piloting he’s just metamorphosised into a little adult. He’s amazingly talented.
What’s interesting about watching him evolve is, and I mean this in the best possible way - he’s always been a good actor. But when he was 11 say, in the pilot, I think he was playing a version of himself, except for the haircut! And I think that now he’s older, what I’ve noticed is that he’s created a very conscious character. He’s doing a very specific thing and puts a lot of thought and effort into it. He’s just brilliant. Really great.
What can you tell us about the songs in this series?
I think the songs in this series are the best songs out of all three series. They do different things emotionally. Maybe there’s nothing as popular as I Like Like You, that’s the one that everyone asks me about, and everyone asks Elliot about. Last Place Hero in the second series was the hardest to write and the best one in that series.
In the third series there’s a real mixture. In the first episode you’ve got a song called Maybe Baby, which is really sweet and a bit like a Randy Newman song and one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever written. I’m really proud of it.
Then in the second episode you’ve got Green-Eyed Monster, which could legitimately be a pop song. I think there are two tiny jokes in there, but the rest of it are just plays on words. I’m just really proud of the songs this time around. We’ve worked really hard on them and wanted them to be better than than the second and the first series.
Going back to the beginning, Uncle started on BBC Three when it was still a traditional TV channel and it’s ending when BBC Three is an online-only service. What your view on the new BBC Three?
I’ve got mixed feelings obviously, because I think BBC Three when I was starting out as a comedian was really important. I did my first big TV appearance on Russell Howard’s Good News and that’s what broke me as a comedian.
That’s what made me a headline act and that extra slot at the end was an amazing slot to have on Russell Howard’s Good News as it gave loads of comedians their first attempt at doing television comedy but with a safety blanket of not having all the weight on their shoulders.
It’s important to put new comedians on TV. The Royal Variety performance which was on the other night, Rob Beckett was on that, and you look at 8 Out Of 10 Cats now and Aisling BE and Rob Beckett are captains on that. People like Romesh Ranganathan has his own show on BBC Three but is a huge act now.
That’s all because BBC Three took a chance on people and gave them the space to not just be good, but also to fail in a safe environment that allowed them to try stuff and learn stuff. I also did Live At The Electric, I had my own show Nick Helm’s Heavy Entertainment and then I’ve had my own sitcom on BBC Three, Uncle.
It’s one of the more popular shows on BBC Three and I think if this is our last series, we’re shepherding BBC Three online and hopefully they’ll tune in to Uncle and they’ll stick with the channel and see what else is there.
But we have the best of both worlds because Uncle is going to be repeated on BBC One on Friday’s after The Graham Norton Show. I think ideally, in my opinion, it would have been nice if BBC Three had stayed as a TV channel, but realistically I don’t know anyone that really watches TV the way we used to.
I always watch stuff on iPlayer or Sky catchup or I record stuff when I’m out. People watch TV on their phones and their computers. I’m never really in to watch TV, so if I was an audience member watching Uncle, I’d probably watch it on my phone.
The amount of my friends who used to text me saying that they’d just seen over someone’s shoulder on the train and they’re watching Uncle. It’s different and I think BBC Three are moving with the times. That’s the positive way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is that it’s not a TV channel anymore and that’s a shame.
What are you going to miss most about Uncle?
Oh I already miss it. Loads of the cast and the crew came back for the last series and it was like a family reunion. I got really emotional about it. I’m really enjoying this project that I’m in now, Loaded, but I’m one in four.
In Uncle I got to be a surrogate uncle to a kid that I watched grow up. We became friends, I taught him life lessons. I got a surrogate sister out of it, Daisy Haggard, who’s one of my best friend’s and I love her. She gives me advice all the time.
I saw the same people every day for months at a time for year’s in a row and that’s what I’m going to miss most about it. I’m not going to miss being in a TV show. The reality of being in a TV show is that you just hang around all day doing nothing. But the reality of being on an amazing TV show like Uncle is that - and this is going to really cheesy - all the people that you work with do genuinely make it worth getting up in the morning.
You’re getting up at 5:30 every morning, you’re getting home at 9 o’clock at night and you jump out of bed, jump into the shower, not always, and then you go into work and you love every day!