Jack Dee on new ITV sitcom: Bad Move is not critical of the countryside
As a happily married father of four grown-up children and with a string of successful TV shows under his belt, you might think Jack Dee has finally reached a stage where he’s ready to sit back and feel contented with his lot.
But the comedian, actor and writer admits that, like so manyof us, he and his wife, Jane, are sometimes fooled into thinking they should be aspiring to a “better” life.
And the lure of glossy property TV shows and magazines once led the couple to investing in an idyllic country mansion – before they realised their London home was much more to their taste.
“A few years ago we bought a manor house in the countryside in an area we knew well, spent a while doing it up and thought, ‘This is it,’” says Jack. “But as soon as we had done it up and were ready to move in, we just realised it was not the right thing.
“We realised that it was actually the quiet and solitude of it – we could not cope with it. It just did not suit us. It is that town mouse versus country mouse thing. Luckily, we had not completely dismantled our life in London, so we were able to extricate ourselves and sell it and go back to our normal lives.
“We are all suited to different environments and we realised that we had built this up into a sort of fantasy, thinking that it was going to be nicer for the kids and all these things, but there was nothing wrong with where we were anyway. Escapism is a big issue and a big element of it.
“Jane and I have watched endless, endless episodes of Escape To The Country and all they ever say at the end is, ‘Janet and John have looked at several other houses and have not yet found their dream home.’ They never say, ‘Janet and John moved to the country and it was a complete disaster,’” he adds.
“Glossy magazines are guilty of doing this as well, telling the story of when Cassandra and Rupert found their dream house in the Cotswolds and their only problem was how to best show off their lovely artwork. Life just isn’t like that usually.”
Jack’s near miss over his “rural idyll” taught him a valuable lesson in how to appreciate what he has – and inspired his latest sitcom.
The 55 year old’s new ITV show, Bad Move, is about a couple who – you’ve guessed it – buy a house in the countryside, a move that rapidly turns into a total nightmare.
The couple, Steve and Nicky, are played by Jack and Kerry Godliman, who was last seen as Ricky Gervais’ sidekick in Derek. Among the cast is Miles Jupp, as the area’s most annoying and sanctimonious resident, and Seann Walsh who plays his exact opposite – a neighbour who is a noisy rock star.
“Steve and Nicky move from Leeds into the Yorkshire Dales after getting caught up in that constant narrative of ‘let’s move to the country’, which they think is a good idea. But it’s not – which happens to a lot of people,” says Jack.
“I’m keen to stress that Bad Move is not critical of the countryside. It’s just about people’s journeys and what happens when they reach a crossroads in life and decide to totally reinvent themselves.
I always find it interesting when people change course in life. These two are on their second marriages and they are doing exactly that.
“Everyone relates to that thing of moving to a house you like the look of and thinking, ‘I’m in heaven, this place is amazing,’ then finding all the snags when you move in. It’s always a pain.”
It’s the second sitcom Jack has written. His first, Lead Balloon, was a huge success for the BBC, but he gave it up after three series, saying the writing process was too long and difficult.
Since then he has extended his acting career and appeared in a number of shows, including election satire Power Monkeys and Josh Widdicombe’s sitcom Josh. He is also the host of Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, which is one of the country’s longest-running series.
But just as he could have been backing off a little, Jack decided to again dip his toe into the world of TV writing and created Bad Move with his Lead Balloon co-writer, Pete Sinclair.
He is also about to embark on his first major stand-up comedy tour since 2013.
“By the end of Lead Balloon I was desperate to do stand-up again and so I did – and by the end of that I was desperate to write a thing for telly again.
“Maybe that is a pattern,” he adds. “I don’t want to just be permanently on the road, just as I don’t permanently want to be in a studio making any particular type of programme. For me, being able to vary it is a necessity as much as a pleasure.”
Jack’s career has been varied – and very nearly didn’t pan out in the direction it has. He started his working life as a waiter and came close to owning a restaurant.
As a schoolboy growing up in Bromley, Kent, he was keen on acting and discovered he was naturally funny, although his teachers often told him off for clowning around.
“The comedian Jerry Lewis, who recently died, used to say,
‘I get paid for doing what kids get told off for,’ and that’s true,” Jack says. “Being a comedian wasn’t a viable career option when I was growing up.”
Some of Jack’s relatives are actors and knew what a risky business the profession could be. So his mother advised him to learn a trade first and he went into the catering industry.
Working his way up from being a waiter, he was on the verge of opening his own restaurant when he realised he did not want to let his showbiz dreams slip away. So Jack tried his hand at stand-up comedy.
After almost winning the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Festival in 1991 – he lost out to Frank Skinner – his career took off and he shot to fame on programmes such as The Jack Dee Show, Jack Dee Live At The Apollo and Shooting Stars.
Despite his brushes with fame – he once had a scuffle outside celebrity hangout the Groucho Club and appeared on the first Celebrity Big Brother, although it was for Comic Relief – he remains one of our most down-to-earth and private celebrities and is one of the country’s hardest-working comedians.
He married Jane in 1989 and now the children have fled the nest they are enjoying spending more time together.
“I spend a lot of time with Jane walking and cooking and it is lovely,” says the comedian. “We have a bit more time on our hands because the kids are all at university and stuff.”
But that’s not to say he is not occasionally tempted by the notion that the grass might be greener on the other side.
“We are the sort of couple who will go on holiday to Ibiza and say, ‘Let’s move to Ibiza,’” he reveals. “We’re idiots like that.
“But having been through the upheaval and experience of buying a property and selling it, it’s better to say, ‘Well, we could do that but it would be better if we just stay here and do the garden.’”
Bad Move is on ITV on Wednesday at 8pm.
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