Meera Syal on dream jobs, crying at the TV and plans for a Goodness Gracious Me comeback

"We have to be confident we’ve got the material and I think we have. We’re gathering it. That could well happen"


Does your family row about what to watch on TV?

There’s lots of fighting over finding a programme we can all watch together as there are three generations in the house – me, my mother and my kids. We usually end up watching a film so we can cherry-pick something suitable for an 11-year-old and an 80-year-old. We also put on The Secret Life of Five-Year-Olds, which we all love and it isn’t going to offend Granny.


You must have a decent-sized sofa to suit all ages.

We’ve got a big L-shaped sofa, and a fairly big TV screen, not a mad one, but right for the room. It’s not one of those mounted-on-the-wall things, though.

Does anything on TV make you cry?

The Secret Life of Five-Year-Olds does. You see children learning to be kind and think of others. Also there’s the moment when you understand that the kid who’s played up did it for quite sad reasons.

Five-year-olds tend to bend the truth, too – as do grown-ups. What’s the silliest thing you’ve ever read about yourself?

A journalist once described me as having a privileged upper-class Oxbridge accent and that I was incredibly posh. I thought, “Hmm you’re not a very good journalist, are you? You haven’t done your research and you’re not very good at accents.” That was a bit odd. I think she decided I’d waltzed through life with a silver spoon.

The women you write usually haven’t been anywhere near a silver spoon. Do you think TV’s got better at depicting women?

It’s changing, but needs to change a little quicker. In theatre there’s lots of cross-gender casting, like Tamsin Greig playing Malvolio in Twelfth Night at the National. And in Elementary, the US version of Sherlock Holmes, Watson is played by an Asian American [Lucy Liu]. It would be nice if it happened a bit more in Britain because it can unlock something terrific.

A lot of your material is about being Asian in Britain – has TV progressed on that front?

I think we’ve slightly gone backwards. Some of the stuff I’d want to have on TV wouldn’t get on at the moment. It’s a conservative climate with lots of period pieces and lots of nostalgia. When people think of stuff with South Asians in, it tends to be programmes like the upcoming Rochdale abuse drama [Three Girls, BBC1].

Of course it’s not like those things don’t happen, but if that’s all that TV is doing, it looks like that’s the only thing Asians do. It’s a problem. If there were five or six or seven shows on TV featuring South Asians, then absolutely Rochdale is a worthy subject to investigate – but it’s about context. We should also be thinking about stories that just show us as people, not issues.

Goodness Gracious Me was definitely about the people. Would you ever bring that back for a whole series?

We don’t want to redo something for the sake of it, but we’re discussing something. We’d like to bring our brand of humour back but in a different format. We have to be confident we’ve got the material and I think we have. We’re gathering it. That could well happen.

What would you be doing if you weren’t writing or acting?

I’d quite like to swim with wild dolphins for a living, but I don’t know if there’s a job like that. Or I’d work in an elephant sanctuary. That’s my dream job where I don’t have to pay a mortgage or think about my children. But if I had to do the sensible option that wasn’t acting or writing, I’d have gone into child psychology. That’s what I was going to do as my Masters course at uni before I ran away to join the circus.


Meera Syal stars in Parental Guidance, Monday 10.30pm on Radio 2