Welcome back to This Country: Daisy May and Charlie Cooper’s sublime mockumentary is as hilarious and heartbreaking as ever
Sarah Carson previews series two of the break-out BBC3 hit and talks to the brother and sister team behind it about the secrets of their success
Was there a funnier programme than This Country on television last year? Daisy May and Charlie Cooper’s sublime mockumentary about life for young people in the Cotswolds combined, with perfect precision, the familiarity and the cartoonish in ordinary life, with rich detail, hilarious dialogue, and heartbreaking pathos in its two heroes, the meandering cousins Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe.
For them – played by the Cooper siblings – idle entertainment is all they have to escape the tedium of the village. Pursuits chronicled in the first series included the chaos of a scarecrow festival, the ill-fated homecoming of an incarcerated uncle, and the search for a boy they bullied in their Year Six woodwork class.
That first series was six years in the making, and evolved from an impression by Daisy of a local girl from the Coopers’ much-missed hometown Cirencester back when Charlie was a dropout of Sports Science Exeter University and sleeping on his older sister’s floor and Daisy was a student at Rada in London, and “so f***ing miserable.” It finally reached iPlayer in 2017, and became a word-of-mouth hit and a critical triumph.
When we left them, the Mucklowe cousins were roaming the fields of Gloucestershire in exaltation. Kurtan had just postponed his GNVQ at Swindon College to stay at home with Kerry – much to her relief, because she had founded a new posse the Dump Gang, and wanted him beside her to smash some ceramic ceiling tiles by the side of the road.
Series two of This Country arrives on BBC3 on Monday 26th February and will air on BBC1 the following week. With only five months to write it, the Coopers have been nervous. “It’s that second album thing – are people going to say they’ve lost their way?” Daisy wonders to me. They haven’t. Their storytelling is well-honed; their characters reveal what’s shaped them and their deepest desires become clear.
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Brilliantly chosen cultural references – TK Maxx, Compare the Meerkat, Sodastreams, S Club 7, Screwfix– still adorn lyrical local patterns of speech that are rarely heard on scripted television. This time around, Kerry gets a stalker, and Kurtan gets a job. We find out about the Vicar’s background, and we meet his mysterious son. Neighbour Mandy remains on terrorising form, and Kerry’s degenerate father and his indifference to – and manipulation of– his daughter take more than just an emotional toll. And crucially, it is very, very funny.
“See this house here?” says Kerry in a knock-off tracksuit, walking up a hill and pointing to a run-down looking semi. “The bloke that used to live in there, right, kept hearing strange noises coming out of the attic at night. And he goes to the fridge, and food was missing from the fridge, so he thought ‘I’m just going to go to the attic and check this out.’ And he found an entire family of Peruvian panpipe buskers just living up there. And he thought ‘I’m just gonna leave them to it because they’re not really doing me any harm.’” After elaborating on their terrible fate, she concludes, “He doesn’t live here anymore. He lives in Stroud because it’s closer to his work.”
So opens the first episode, before the cousins assure us that ‘so much’ has changed in the year since the film crew’s last visit. Kerry’s grasp on reality is still loose, her anecdotes still outlandish. But she’s been making an effort to improve herself, ‘hanging out with the Vicar’: long walks, gardening, golf. He’s been teaching her about how to be kind to others. “There’s a balance to be had between being nice and being feared,” she warns. “Doctor Barnardo’s, he was too nice and not feared, so he just got overrun by orphans and everyone just took the piss.”
For his part, Kurtan’s been avoiding the Vicar (and neglecting the cress he planted on the window ledge of the village hall), because he’s got a girlfriend. He cast the net wide on Tinder, but ended up with a local girl Sophie, who Kerry approves of – she’ll let her call her ‘Soph’. But there’s trouble in paradise. Kurtan’s worried he set the bar too high at the beginning and now she demands too much of him. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but four texts a day is complete madness. No one can keep up with that.” He doesn’t make the requisite effort with his costume at the village Secret Cinema night, and things begin to derail.
When it came to writing the show, the pair agree neither could have done it by themselves. “You have to have someone you can bounce things off. If he doesn’t laugh then it’s not going in. And you can’t have nicety or politeness, you’ve got to be able to say, ‘That line you just wrote is f***ing rubbish’,” says Daisy. “We’re better now,” says Charlie, “but when we were first writing, living at home with no money and lots of pressure, it’s easy to turn on each other – which we did a hell of a lot. But you’re siblings so you can’t fall out forever.”
They avoided watching other comedies, in case it affected their writing, and had to try to block out what people had liked the first time around. “You get instant feedback on social media, if you’re brave enough to look,” says Charlie. ”It’s great to see what people like, and so much of it was unintentional things, but it makes you overthink and overanalyse when you’re writing.” Viewers seemed to love the way Kerry’s mother (an unseen, bed-bound harpy, voiced by Daisy) pronounced the word ‘tomato’. “I f***ing hate that now,” says Daisy. Their real mum, Gill, bursts into the cottage halfway through our interview to announce that she’s been chased through the woods by two feral pigs. “I almost peed myself but they were gorgeous! Can we get some?”
Laughing hysterically, Charlie reveals that for the show, they tried to write an episode where Kerry and Kurtan rescue a pig that’s been sent to abattoir. “But we had to give it up, because where do we find a pig that can act aggressive on cue?”
They always wanted people to find This Country on their own. “It’s like when you discover The Office for the first time, it gives you so much pride showing it to a friend – you feel connected to it.”
When I ask why they chose to make Kerry and Kurtan cousins, specifically, Daisy says, “They needed to be in the same year at school, best friends, but related – if they were just friends, people will think ‘Will they ever get together?’ That’s a really annoying thing when you have male and female protagonists.”
This time around, there’s more of a narrative arc to the series. Kurtan broadens his horizons, and we see how emotionally intelligent, kind, and supportive he truly is when it comes to Kerry – which is as devastating as it is touching. It’s rare, and perhaps only possible when the writers/actors are this close, that you can feel the way two characters on-screen truly know each other.
In one scene, Kurtan – who’s always been sharper than Kerry – tells cameras that Kerry’s problem is she is very loyal, but also very stupid. He is not wrong, and the small tragedy of Kerry’s life is what drives this series forward, as she comes a cropper with her father Martin – played by their real-life dad Paul. (He was recently asked for his first selfie in Waitrose, “And he WILL NOT stop talking about it!”)
“There are not many good, original characters for women in sitcoms,” Charlie says, but in Kerry, they have created one. In the first episode of this series, called Random Acts of Kindness, Kerry volunteers to do security for the Vicar’s aforementioned secret cinema night. She’s metal-detecting pensioners as they enter the village hall for a screening of Grease, and has got her eye out for possible snipers. Her hair is scraped back, and she’s wearing an oversized men’s shirt (Daisy had to mask her pregnancy for the shoot. During our interview, her two-week old baby daughter Pip gurgles happily from her chair, as if laughing along with her mother and uncle.)
“You look like Andy Fordham,” Kurtan tells her. “Who’s that?” “A fat darts player, basically.” “Well, I don’t care, because I’m enjoying myself.”
And that, simply, is that. Kerry is uninterested in femininity, romance, or vanity, which feels truly novel for a woman on-screen. Is she the ultimate feminist comedy character, as has been suggested? “That’s really nice,” Charlie nods. Daisy, vehemently, continues. “It sounds awful, but when they’re written by blokes women are always f***ing really bad, really two dimensional, just make women look like complete c***s. I wanted to do something else. Usually women are just vehicles for the love story. This is someone who is asexual, tomboyish, and the biggest unrequited love story is her relationship with her dad. It’s never questioned why she’s wearing a shirt from Burtons, you accept her as she is.”
An early – and ill-fated – pilot with ITV saw the pair forced to write a plot where Kerry became super-girly. “And how wrong could that be?” Daisy asks. “We were pushed to write that by a f***ing male producer, and it still makes me cross to this day. She is not worthy as a woman unless she puts on a dress and wears make up and puts heels on – that is so stupid. What’s funny about a tomboy girl trying to change – how many times have I seen that? She’s All That, Shallow Hal – it’s all crap. The BBC have been amazing and trust us. They’ve never pushed anything on us like that.”
Writing the show has been cathartic for the Coopers, who are both happily back living in the Cotswolds. There’s talk of more This Country, maybe a special episode, but Charlie says the challenge would be writing something else, and Daisy agrees. “I’m really scared about it. We’ll know when the time is right, when our lives have changed and we’re living something we can write about. It has to be something we know – it has to be organic.”
On the strength of this second series, it’s a thrill to consider what they might write in future. But Daisy thinks their priorities, for the moment, should be elsewhere. “He can’t find a girlfriend. Charlie, I just think you should put it out there, you really need to get this sorted.”
This Country series two is available on BBC iPlayer now and begins airing on BBC1 on Tuesday 6th March at 10:45pm