Ben Willbond and Laurence Rickard have enjoyed a mammoth hit with BBC One's Ghosts, where they are co-creators and stars along with the rest of the Horrible Histories troupe, but they aren't resting on their laurels with their latest endeavour.


Feature-length special We Are Not Alone is a very different beast, exploring what might happen if aliens successfully invaded Earth; essentially picking up from when the blockbuster finishes.

That's how you get a cohort of hapless extraterrestrial overlords turning up in Clitheroe, Lancashire, looking to form a national government in the very centre of the UK's land mass – that's just common sense, right?

These outsiders are the vehicle for some sharp satire on the absurdity of modern life, which occasionally veers into ruder material than typically seen on the family-friendly Ghosts.

"I think there's something about the gravity of what's happening for those characters," explained Rickard. "It's one of those shows where it felt like you'd really have to cheat it to not have anyone at any point go, 'Oh, s**t!'"

He continued: "It's so big. And we didn't want to destroy the faux reality of it all. So, it naturally sat just post-watershed rather than just pre-."

The show has a starry cast of comedy talent, including Joe Thomas (The Inbetweeners) as staggeringly dopey alien Greggs and Amanda Abbington (Sherlock) as exiled cabinet minister Caroline Grieves (no shortage of inspiration for that one).

"There was a lot of, 'God, wouldn't it be great if...' times, and luckily, there were people who came back and went, 'Yeah, we'd love to' – some of whom we were not expecting," recalled Rickard. "So we ended up above and beyond what we were hoping for."

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Amanda Abbington stars in Dave's We Are Not Alone
Amanda Abbington stars in Dave's We Are Not Alone. UKTV

But Rickard says there's a "trade-off" in the casting, with a conscious mix of established actors and lesser known rising talent, with Declan Baxter (a recent Ghosts guest star) in the lead role.

He plays Stewart, a listless council administrator who inadvertently becomes human liaison to the Gu'un invaders, a role that comes with lots of colourful paper (or as we call it, money), but also high risk of a grisly death.

Among Baxter's many appealing qualities, he's "genuinely Northern".

"We didn't want Southern, well-known, well-placed actors in their early 30s, putting on a Northern accent and pretending they were 26," said Rickard.

"It does happen," Willbond amusingly chimes in.

Joe Thomas and Declan Baxter star in We Are Not Alone
Joe Thomas and Declan Baxter star in We Are Not Alone. UKTV

Rickard and Willbond themselves make a brief appearance, although fans shouldn't expect their roles to be as prominent as those in Ghosts, where they play caveman Robin/headless nobleman Sir Humphrey Bone and World War II veteran The Captain respectively.

The duo never thought to give themselves leading roles in We Are Not Alone – "I think the only thing we considered was not being in it at all," said Rickard – partly because of their substantial commitment to the residents of Button House.

Juggling both shows was a challenge which really came down to the wire, with one week overlap between the end of shooting We Are Not Alone and the start of production on Ghosts season 4 (concluding soon with the upcoming Christmas special).

Ultimately, they settled on "a really nice little cameo" that felt like a good fit and leaves potential for reappearances should We Are Not Alone get picked up for a full series by Dave.

Ben Willbond and Laurence Rickard star in We Are Not Alone
Ben Willbond and Laurence Rickard star in We Are Not Alone. UKTV

If you've seen any of the ads for We Are Not Alone lately, your attention has probably been drawn towards its striking Gu'un characters, with their pale blue complexion and bulging foreheads; a design that looks ripped from classic Star Trek.

"We were really keen for it to be prosthetics because we knew that world and knew what you could and couldn't get away with," said Rickard, who dons a similarly elaborate get-up for his neanderthal character on Ghosts.

"And also, because there's so much you can still see, you capture the performance, which is obviously so important in comedy."

Willbond admits: "It actually was quite worrying [during filming], because you see the aliens and go, 'What are we doing?' They look so bizarre.

"And then as soon as we saw them on screen, it was like, 'Yeah, this is right, actually', because they have to be totally otherworldly [and] a little bit ridiculous; every time you see them, you have to stop and adjust."

Vicki Pepperdine stars in We Are Not Alone
Vicki Pepperdine stars in We Are Not Alone. UKTV

Though their appearance will raise questions, the answers are likely to be left to viewers' imaginations, as Willbond explains that the focus will remain squarely on Earth's native inhabitants.

"This is a comedy about humanity and how stupid humans are and how baffling," he continued. "So, what we can do is – if we're lucky enough to make any more – we can sort of leave it at that.

"Let people guess what the Gu'un planet was like and what their physiognomy is like; we can use those as gags rather than having to get ourselves tangled up in world creation."

So, if We Are Not Alone goes down with audiences as well as the creators hope – and truly, it deserves to – what do they have in mind for their sci-fi satire?

"We saw this as being a feature-length pilot, I suppose," explained Rickard, citing '80s genre classics Battlestar Galactica, Incredible Hulk and V as also having started out this way.

"We tried to marry the story of a feature with what is, in a lot of ways, the tone of a sitcom. The themes and issues that we [plan to] tackle going forward are more contained, so there would be a proper sitcom format coming out the back of it."

When Willbond and Rickard's pitch changed from a conventional sitcom pilot to a feature-length special, a lot of their initial ideas had to be shelved to account for the shift in format.

However, those are now "sitting ready" in the drawer to be revisited, which means the writing partners should be able to hit the ground running in the event of a series order.

I, for one, welcome our new Gu'un overlords. It's time to put Clitheroe on the map.

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We Are Not Alone airs tonight, Monday 28th November 2022, at 9pm on Dave. Check out more of our Comedy coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


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