Following a spectacular News Year’s special, Taskmaster is back for series 11.
From actress Sarah Kendall to comedian Lee Mack, this year’s Taskmaster cast will be competing for that all-important gold bust of Greg Davies’ head.
This will be the show’s second full-length series at Channel 4 after, the popular gameshow moved over from Dave last year.
Since the series kicked off in 2015, fans have fallen in love with its weird yet wonderful nature.
But what exactly goes into making a show like Taskmaster?
RadioTimes.com previously spoke to series director Andy Devonshire to uncover some behind-the-scenes secrets about just how our favourite show is made.
As well as this, this year’s contestant Charlotte Ritchie also opened up about how long it takes to film on the show, and it’s a lot longer than we expected!
Here’s everything you need to know.
This story was first published in May 2018.
1. The Taskmaster house
The now-infamous house is in fact a former groundskeepers’ cottage inside a golf course in Chiswick, west London. It still belongs to the golf course and back in 2014, it was listed for rent – if you had a spare £4,000 a month.
Sadly these days, it’s off the rental market. “We move in and live here for the period of filming,” said Andy.
“After series one I think they had some people come in and stay over the summer, but we de-Taskmaster it when we go away so it is very different.
“There’s a different theme inspired by a specific artist every series [this year it’s Escher] so there’s obviously things that stay the same but we redecorate within the boundaries of that. When we leave it’s quite minimalist.”
He explained that from the outset, they wanted the house to be a character in the show as well. “I think it’s really important that it’s a characterful house and we were just the luckiest people in the world to stumble across this place because it’s very unusual and very unique.”
You can read more about where Taskmaster is filmed, here.
2. The Taskmaster house almost never was
Viewers might be surprised to hear the iconic house we’ve come to love on Taskmaster wasn’t actually an original element of the show. Alex initially intended to go to the guests’ houses to record their contributions.
3. Are the comedians allowed on the roof?
Strange question – but one that has an answer. And no, they’re not. “Obviously it would be a bit inconvenient if we killed someone when we were making the show, whatever comedic value there is,” said Andy.
“We have a duty of care to them and us and obviously we have to be sensible. Some things that people come up with straight away we aren’t allowed to let them do, but I think we’re just protecting them from themselves!
“Aside from the very specific rules in each task, generally if it’s not excluded by those, it won’t kill anyone and it isn’t illegal, then we sort of try and facilitate people to do as much as their imagination wants.”
4. Are the comedians all at the Taskmaster house at the same time?
For the individual tasks, they’re not. And they’re often not at the house in the same month.“It’s very random, really,” he explained.
“Obviously we have to work around their availability and our availability. We’ve had some people do it over the course of a few months. We have a handful of dates for each person and then it depends on their availability and our logistics. Vicky, our production manager, has this weird hotchpotch jigsaw of how people’s availability sits in with each other – and with us.
“Mel Giedroyc actually did hers in pretty much a week but Bob Mortimer did a big batch at the house at November and then we did his exterior location tasks in May or April. Quite a few flowers came out in the meantime.”
5. Where do the comedians go – and what do they do – between tasks?
“The process that they go through is they turn up at the house and they go to the green room,” explained Andy about the small side room in the house that comprises mainly of a table, desk and mirror. “It’s fundamentally rock ‘n’ roll. There’s a jar of sweets, they’ve got a fridge with water and soft drinks in, they have two sofas and sometimes they have make-up.
“We obviously talk to them and bring them cups of tea, but they sit and wait. Then we bring them out, they do a task, they go back in, they do their own thing for a little while. Essentially they are literally in the Taskmaster universe and I think that’s part of the secret to it – they enter into this strange world.”
6. Taskmaster cast
You might think that putting together exactly the right mix of five celebrities and comedians for each series of Taskmaster is a complicated alchemy requiring lots of thought and planning.
“It’s just people throwing ideas and we sort of chuck them on the table and see how it works,” laughs Andy.
“Quite a few people have said no and there are a few people who we’ve been trying to get in for a while. But filming the show is quite a commitment and it is quite tricky to get some people because it’s a lump of time at the beginning and then a lump of time in the studio. Although it’s certainly a lot easier now because people can see that we haven’t killed anyone. Yet.”
Alex Horne credits comedian Frank Skinner for their casting success.
He said: “Word of mouth has really helped us. I do quite often thank Frank Skinner because he agreed to do the very first series and that was a real stamp of approval. He had a nice time on it, which really helps, so that set the ball rolling. And the fact that Jo Brand did it has helped, of course.”
7. Who tests out the tasks before the comedians are let loose on them?
Often, nobody. Andy explained that “very few” of the challenges are tried out before the celebrities open that wax-sealed envelope.“We always test the studio tasks, but the location tasks are the kind of things you can’t test, really,” he says.
“There’s always a shakedown and a ‘what are we going to get from this?’ because you can come up with tasks and the results can be so immeasurable that as long as it creates situations for the relationship with Greg Davies, Alex and the comedians then the task is worth a go.
“Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. But mostly they work.”
8. The brains behind the tasks
Although the small team that work behind the scenes on the show (only around 15-20 people in total) come up with “a few”, it’s Alex Horne who thinks up the majority of the weird, wonderful and hilarious tasks.
“Alex is basically a superhero in terms of his humour and wit,” said Andy. “And it’s about trust and it’s about trusting in Alex. As you go on, you sort of think [coming up with tasks] is finite and then something else comes along and there’s a new idea and you can develop it – and hopefully we can keep doing that.”
Although the team do sit down and discuss what’s going to happen on each episode, Horne says the scripts tends to go “out the window!”
Speaking in a recent interview with Greg Davies, he explained: “We do sit down and discuss what we’re going to do, but I think the vast majority of that goes out the window in the studio. I’d feel pretty confident in saying there’s very little faux-spontaneity. If a comment seems off the cuff, or a judgement seems to be made in the moment, then it was.”
9. A typical filming day in the life of the Taskmaster crew
“We put together a checklist of tasks we want to do over the course of a day,” said Andy. “We give them a soft entrance into the whole process and we try and give them a variety of creative vs. race challenges across the day.
Taskmaster – Series 6 – Asim Chaudhry (UKTV/Avalon/Andy Devonshire)“We have our list of how many tasks we need to get through for the time that we have with them and then we hopscotch between indoors and outdoors – it’s a big, logistical thing but we also take into consideration how we want their minds to work so that they’re free enough to do the tasks the best they can, really.
“We wouldn’t put really creative ones first thing in the morning and we wouldn’t put really creative tasks back-to-back. Similarly, we wouldn’t have ones where they have to run around like crazy all day. The whole thing about the show is to give people as good a chance to do as well as possible. We make people look good, that’s our intent.”
10. Has anything ever gone wrong in filming the tasks?
Asked what the most challenging day of filming had been, Andy joked that there were “too many – they’re all scars on my soul!
“Although in series one when Romesh Ranganathan nearly choked on a watermelon,” Andy laughed. “It was our very first day filming and we thought we’d killed him. He wolfed it down with such ferocity that he nearly choked himself. He was throwing up and then eating the watermelon again. That stands out.”
11. Alex never wanted to be a Taskmaster
Despite coming up with the show, from the get-go Alex had no intention of being the Taskmaster. The comedian made this decision because he wanted to be there when the contestants complete them and so on, and being the Taskmaster would have involved a certain level of detachment.
12. There’s a task that doesn’t work
There’s one task they tried in Series one, two and three, however, it’s never been filmed. The challenge involves bursting an entire roll of bubble wrap, which might sound easy, but unfortunately it just didn’t make good TV so it was… deflated, should we say.
13. Taskmaster almost never made it to TV
It’s hugely popular now, but you might be surprised to hear that Taskmaster was actually quite a tough sell for TV. Alex approached many different channels to try and get the show commissioned, but it wasn’t easy. Luckily he did, and now we’re about to go into the 10th series.
14. Filming can take up to five days
Ghosts star Charlotte Ritchie says she had “five days of solid filming” for series 11.
Speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com, she said: “You have like four or five days of solid filming. And they do like four or five tasks every day that you’re there. Not all the days are consecutive, but you go in and do them.”
Before each task, contestants are put into rooms.
Charlotte explained: “The day is basically full of lots of tasks and in between tasks, you’re put into a tiny room, where you’re not allowed to leave the room until they next invite you to do your next task, which is so exciting – actually just reliving it now is really cool.”
When it’s time for contestants to try out their next task, they’re then moved onto another location.
“They come in and go, ‘OK Charlotte, we’re ready for your next task,’ And you’re just like, ‘Oh my God, what is it gonna be?’ And actually, it’s so funny, because even though talking about it like ‘Oh, it was a bit difficult’, I I literally walked into the room every time like I was walking into a sweet shop,” she said.