Inside The Childish Mind Behind The Inbetweeners

His sitcom has made us laugh, reminded us of how stupid we all were and even made 'clunge' a relatively acceptable word to say in the workplace, meet Inbetweeners writer Iain Morris.
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Two years ago, one of my best mates and I got together at his house, along with my now ex-girlfriend, and sat down with the intention of writing a sitcom.

Counting ourselves as relatively humorous, with our jobs demanding us to write in sentences and put full stops in all the right places, nothing could stop us.

Armed with the best notepad the local newsagent had to offer and a bag of two-day-old prawn crackers, this was to be the night we would later recall when the Guardian inevitably asked us just when we began writing the story of two overnight security guards.

I bet you wish we'd have carried that one through, don't you?

As it was, we fumbled about aimlessly, put a few thoughts down on paper, thoughts that would make us both cringe if we were to dig them out now, and then gave up about an hour later to watch a new-out DVD that my mate had been recommended.

It was the first series of the Inbetweeners, then a fledgling and still largely unknown show on E4 that was out on DVD following its initial run in May 2008.

Now, two years on, my friend and I both still speculate about writing something funny of our own, no more likely to do so than Lenny Henry, while the names Jay Sutherland, Neil Cartwright, Simon Cooper and William McKenzie are household names, the word "clunge" is on the tip of every teenage boys tongue, if you pardon the expression, and the Inbetweeners is one of the most successful comedies of the last decade.

So, when the guys at Sabotage Times HQ asked me to put something together to commemorate the final Inbetweeners episode that aired on Monday night to E4's largest-ever audience, I decided to find out what it is that separates wannabes like me and my mate from those that forge on and do become the subject of a Guardian think piece.

And who better to ask than the man who has been there, done it and made the T-Shirt (official Inbetweeners t-shirts are now available) - Iain Morris, who is, along with writing partner Damon Beesley, the pen behind the unstoppable force that is the Inbetweeners.

"I hated my, from the outside, brilliant job. So I quit with nothing lined up, nowhere to go to, and then Damon left his job so we sort of had no choice. Despite that we still spent three or four months procrastinating."

The duo, a pair of thirty-somethings, have been in and around the comedy circuit for some time and have worked together on American show Flight of the Conchords, but the Inbetweeners was their first solo writing project, and I asked Iain what it was that triggered them to put pen to paper.

"We lived together and so we spent a long time making each other laugh with stories and anecdotes from our youth," he told me. "Combined with that was a vague sense that we should one day write something together. From when we finally put two and two together and when we started writing was maybe a year.

"It was far too long, but we are quite slow, and I suppose what finally inspired us was a sense that we were getting old, and I hated my, from the outside, brilliant job. So I quit with nothing lined up, nowhere to go to, and then Damon left his job so we sort of had no choice. Despite that we still spent three or four months procrastinating."

For those that have been on the moon, in a darkened room or in denial for the past two years, the Inbetweeners follows the lives of four teenage college students, Jay, Neil, Simon and Will, who are too geeky to be cool and too cool to be geeky. The Inbetweeners.

The 18 episodes that have been made follow their attempts to be in with the cool crowd and distance themselves from the geeks, by drinking enough beer, bagging as much "clunge" and dislodging as many daffodils from people's gardens as they can.

Of course, things rarely go to plan and various disasters occur along the way, including Simon vomiting over his sweetheart's brother, calling his penis a "cunt" as he fails to get an erection while trying to lose his virginity, Neil punching a fish to death and Will soiling himself in the middle of an exam.

Various expertly-cast extras fleet in and out of the show, including Will's über-hot mum, Simon's randy dad, Neil's camp father and Jay's foul-mouthed old man, as well as an outstanding performance from Greg Davies as their head of year, the brilliantly curt Mr Gilbert.

I don't think it's too unfair of me to say that the Inbetweeners isn't trying to be clever. It offers a winning formula of funny and like-able characters, one of whom we can probably all relate to, a healthy percentage of swearing and plenty of hilarious moments. It's not the Thick of It and it's not trying to be.

For reasons such as those, the show has proved to be an unprecedented hit for E4. Just shy of three million people tuned in for Monday's final episode, in which the four lads, with the end of their college days fast approaching, headed to the great outdoors for a camping trip. As ever, things didn't run according to script, but the episode ended, rather cleverly for my money, with their situations being resolved quite nicely.

They all walked away into the distance on the back of swapping mobiles and having the freedom to text whoever they wanted on the other person's phone. As it was, they left our screens with Jay's dad confirming he was a compulsive liar who needed therapy, the dimwitted Neil being happy to have an STD rather than be faced with becoming a father and Will's mum proving he was a mummy's boy by responding to his text that he wanted to "smash her back doors in" with an 'I love you' template.

The only open-ended matter was Simon's text to his long-standing crush, his neighbour Carli. Jay had text her on his behalf claiming all sorts of lewd things, but when her response arrived, Simon uttered the word "brilliant" and then refused to share beyond that.

That leaves a thread for Iain and Damon to pick up for the writing of the Inbetweeners movie which is expected to come out next year, in which the lads head abroad on holiday. A new series, though, appears to be out of the question, even if Iain himself doesn't quite know why.

"Just write it. Get something down. Think about it a lot before you do, but set a time limit on your thinking. Then, when it's written, even if it's shit, keep re-writing until when you go through it each line is a joke or is working."

"We might write a special after the film if we feel there are a few loose ends to tie up," he says.

"I think others that have refused to write more of their shows have stopped for different reasons to us. It's all ended and I'm still not entirely sure why we have stopped.

"We all loved each other and other people seem to still like the show, but I hope the film will be good."

Anyone that has read interviews with Iain and Damon over the past two years, or even those that follow Iain on his Twitter account, will have discovered that a number of the look-away-moment mishaps that have happened to the boys in the show are things that have happened to the two of them in real life.

On the back of that, I wondered if there was one particular moment, episode or character that meant more to the man that had made them come to life.

"They all mean a lot to me because we put the same amount of work into them all," he says.

"We're on set every day and in the edit and sound dub every day, but I think there are three that stand out. Will gets a girlfriend from series one, because we got away with being a bit sentimental and also because it features two things that happened to me almost exactly how they played out.

"In series two it was the field trip, because it reminds me how much we owe Ben Palmer, our director. When we wrote the boat scene we assumed it would be impossible and it would end up being on dry land or with no fish, somehow. That kind of cynicism comes from experience, sadly. But right from the first draft, Ben planned it meticulously and I think it's my favourite moment in the shows.

"Although for some reason, the show I enjoy watching the most is Will's birthday from series two."

Personally, the idea of penning a show is still on my radar, and anyone who watched Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's Extras, one of Iain's favourite shows, will have come across the difficulties in not only writing a show but then getting someone to read your script, commission it, cast it and then allow you to produce it in the way you intended.

But Iain's advice is simple: "Just write it. Get something down. Think about it a lot before you do, but set a time limit on your thinking. Then, when it's written, even if it's shit, keep re-writing until when you go through it each line is a joke or is working. Then give it to someone whose opinion you trust and see what they think. Don't make it too long, though, so you don't bore them. Getting it down and re-writing it is the hardest part."

Iain says that he and Damon started on another idea after the Inbetweeners but everyone thought it was "shit" so returned to the Inbetweeners. They do have some thoughts on future programmes, though, albeit vague ones.

And what of the legacy the Inbetweeners has left on comedy. Of course there are naysayers, Iain admits that he worries too much about them, as the show isn't to everyone's taste. On the whole, though, it has proved to be an enormous success, with phrases such as "clunge", "bus wankers" and "morning benders" making their way into every day life, or at least they have in my workplace and amongst my friends.

"People don't do that at my work so it's great to hear people do," Iain says. "At my work we repeat Partridge and Office phrases quite a lot to be fair. I pretty much based my personality on the fictional Basil Fawlty, an interesting decision, so I understand what it is to love a comedy show and the idea that people may feel about our show the way I feel about other shows is lovely, exciting and humbling."

So there you have it. There probably won't be another series of the Inbetweeners, but there will be a film and, if you ask nicely, there might be a special.

Now to find that notepad and those prawn crackers.


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