Yours Truly, Pierre Stone – Sam Bain reflects on the book that led to Peep Show

The comedy is now a Radio 4 series starring Alex Macqueen as a man obsessed with Tess Daly

Sam Bain - Getty, BD

Peep Show co-creator Sam Bain has written a new Radio 4 comedy called Yours Truly, Pierre Stone, about a man obsessed with Strictly presenter Tess Daly.

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Originally penned as a novel nearly three decades ago, when Bain was still a student, it has been updated to the present day. So instead of writing a series of letters, our hero now posts messages to Facebook about his heroine, who in its modern incarnation is Tess Daly. It’s decidedly creepy and oddly satisfying on radio. Added to that, the book has an interesting story of its own to tell.

For starters without it, we probably wouldn’t have had the classic Channel 4 comedy Peep Show.

Bain wrote the book when he was still a student and it was read (and admired) by TV executive Phil Clarke. He set up a meeting with Bain and Jesse Armstrong and the trio went on to make Peep Show, a comedy classic that ran for nine series starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb.

As a book, Yours Truly, Pierre Stone is unsettling enough, but in the new version airing on Radio 4 it’s a late night chill fest with Alex Macqueen (a Peep Show alumnus, below) playing our eponymous anti-hero who always signs off his sinister missives “Yours Truly, Pierre Stone.”

Alex Macqueen - Getty, BD

“I always designed it as a satire on celebrity culture and if anything celebrity culture’s mushroomed in the 25 years since I wrote it,” says Bain. “I thought it had relevance and I have always liked the voice. I didn’t really think about making it for TV as it really only works in this format. Alex is the only one I ever considered doing it.”

Describing the hero as an “obsessive fan with a touch of light stalking” of course the object of his affections is a contemporary celebrity. And he also cleared the use of her name with Tess Daly’s representatives.

“We have been in touch with her agent and they are fine with it,” adds Bain. “If they had expressed objections we wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing it.

“I have looked at her Facebook wall – not obsessively, may I add – and seen the odd messages she gets. There are lots of people commenting on her stuff. I doubt she has read them and if she does she might be creeped out. I don’t know. It’s something celebrities have to deal with these days.”

He has chosen Daly as the object of Pierre’s ardour because she is mainstream enough to “make the irony that someone thought they had a relationship with her more obvious”. But the real target of course is the “unhealthy” state of affairs which makes stories like this eerily plausible.

Adds Bain: “It speaks volumes about where we are in a culture. Or the flip side of that, as opposed to crying over Diana, we force feed Jordan kangaroo’s testicles every night for seven nights on I’m a Celebrity and laugh as she has to gulp down offal. That’s the flip side of the relationship we have with celebrity.

“I’m a comedy writer so I find it more ridiculous than dark and terrifying. I think it’s kind of absurd and kind of sad. There’s a lot of sadness and loneliness in the book. I wrote it when I was feeling that way. The sense of isolation and atomisation is a thing. There are communities with lots of lonely people in the world. I think that’s why celebrity culture has become dominant.

“There’s something about these relationships where people think they are more real. To me it’s satire on the culture we have whereby we all assume a certain knowledge of people we don’t know. We have a relationship with the news every morning, every day we have a relationship with the culture. But in a way, it’s a pseudo relationship.”

In fact, that relationship is something he indirectly experienced when he was very young.

He got the idea for Pierre Stone from a childhood memory of the time an obsessive fan wrote to his mother, the actress Rosemary Frankau who played June’s friend (and the wife of Terry’s infamous boss Malcolm) in the classic comedy, Terry and June.

“I thought it was really interesting at the time, that this person was writing to my mother thinking they knew her which they didn’t and writing about their life. In a way social media has just increased that sort of thing nowadays and that’s why I thought it might be relevant now.”

I think he’s right. It’s not a comfortable listening experience, but I would recommend tuning in. Even if Tess Daly should probably avoid it…

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Yours Truly, Pierre Stone is airing on Radio 4 on Tuesday nights at 11.15pm