All original text and images ©RJE Simpson 1999-2006
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The League of Gentlemen 1994-present
Doctor Who (writer 2005/6)
Nebulous (performer, Radio4, 2005)
The Quatermass Experiment (actor, BBC4, 2005)
The Vesuvius Club (author, 2004)

conducted 30th June 2005


Mark Gatiss, posing at homeMark Gatiss is hot property these days, currently riding on a wave of success following the publication of his novel The Vesuvius Club in 2004, along with the big-screen debut of the comedy troupe he's been a quarter of for over a decade, in The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse, and his own penned, and popular episode of the 2005 revival of Doctor Who - The Unquiet Dead.

I've been looking to interview Mark for a year now, and had originally hoped to catch him when the League were filming in Dublin. Then earlier this year when I was hoping to get over to London for a chat, things got very hectic, Nebulous was on the radio, publicity was in full swing for the League movie (before the release date was put back by two months), and the live version of The Quatermass Experiment in which Mark played Patterson (alongside Jason Flemying and David Tennant) came up.

Just after the release of the film, as things died down a little Mark graciously found time in his schedule for a chat. Pencilled in for a twenty minute slot on a July afternoon, this ended up as our lengthiest interview so far, finishing an hour later. In that time we managed to discuss most of his recent career, with no holds barred. A delight to interview - I don't think I've ever laughed so much with one of my interviewees.

As the clock strikes three, I dial the number I have been given for Mark's agent, only to find myself speaking to an answer machine, as the woman in question is off today. As I struggle online to find an alternate phone number (didn't foresee this, so haven't left the general number sitting out), I receive a call on my mobile from the agency. Details are exchanged, and they are due to call me back. Five more minutes of silence. Oh dear. Another call to my mobile, and I'm given an extension number to try.

I think its going to be one of those days. Stupidly, I left it until just an hour beforehand to go out and purchase some new equipment for this interview. I have barely had time to do any testing, and I'm having to use an old, and shoddy microphone. Typical.

Note on the interview format:- In a bid to preserve the flavour of the interview, this is presented as a fairly straight transcript, reproducing most of the conversation as it was. Some minor edits have been made to the text for purposes of flow, though in a few instances I have left the hesitations and Mark's affirmations in. This is what its like when talking to Mark Gatiss…

Mark Gatiss: Its one of those days all round. Nothing's getting through today. I'll do my best.

Robert Simpson: I'm not actually sure what would be an appropriate topic to start the interview on. You seem to have had a very busy year.

It carries on. I've just been on holiday actually, which is something I've been meaning to do since February and it was much appreciated. You go on, you dive in. This for Nebulousity is it?

When I started off wanting to do this interview, it was the time of Nebulous and The Quatermass Experiment. And then the film. And then I think I thought you were probably far to busy so I thought I'll leave it for a bit, until things had calmed down again.

Well they have, they've kind of calmed down a bit; we're planning the tour now, and its weirdly kind of full on. We did the commentary for the film before it came out, which was a bizarre situation, 'cus you normally want a bit of time for it to settle down, I think you'll probably hear when you hear it, its very particular to its time, everything's sort of "well I wonder what happened?" [laughs]

That's a bit of a shame,' cus I remember on the third series commentary there's obviously the knowledge of the response from the critics and the public…[the third series of The League of Gentlemen had a very mixed reception, dividing many of the fans and attracting many derogatory reviews. The film seems to have split opinions too]

I think that's bad thing though. Reece was in a terrible mood that day. I don't know, a lot of people have said to me we sound really, really bitter on that and its not true. I don't know, it was just interestingly different. This particular commentary is all based around having been talking to journalists for the last ten days or something [laughs]. It has its own particular flavour.

Yeah, because the film was pushed back as well wasn't it? The release date…

Yeah. We were going to go with April 23rd - I think that's St. George's Day - and because of Hitchhiker's [the long awaited big-screen adaptation of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which features Mark and the rest of the League as Vogon voices] moving up we put back to June. But it's a funny thing, its kind of all swings and roundabouts because obviously the thing there was we were going to be up against, as it were, Sin City, Star Wars, whatever, but at the same time by having a little longer we were able to show a completely finished film to the reviewers. If we'd gone in April we would only have been able to show them the film with the temporary soundtrack, which wasn't graded. You never know really which one's the better one to go for.

How did you find the response to the film yourselves?

It has been wonderful to be honest, particularly from the fans, very very good. We've had… I suppose mixed reviews is the best way to put it. We've had fantastic reviews, some grudging ones, some, I mean not very many absolutely bad ones, but it's kind of exactly what we expected. No one really gives you any credit for trying to do something with a bit of ambition. And of course, again its on the [commentary], when making it we knew we would get this sort of typical voice going that we were clever clever to make jokes about how bad British spin-off comedies tend to be, and of course then they'd say "How I wish they had done one where they've all gone to Spain" and of course, as expected that's exactly what some of them did say!

poster for The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse (2005)But the weird thing about it all, in a funny way, you've got to take the good ones with as much a pinch of salt as the bad ones because in the end its just someone's opinion, and although obviously you print all the good reviews on your poster, its just someone's opinion… I mean, no word of a lie, there were three reviews in The Times [British national newspaper] over a period of like two weeks, in different aspects of The Times. They were saying in the Times Eye, or the Times Review… three different people reviewed it and there were three entirely different reviews, ranging from one, a guy who liked the series and hated the film, someone who quite liked the film, and then an absolute rave. Now, what do you do? You put all three of them on the poster? No, obviously you put the best, but at the same time even within a paper its just someone else's opinion so… the only thing that ultimately tells if whether people have enjoyed it, is whether they go to see it and eventually how it stands up - if you can still watch the film in ten years time, and I strongly believe you will be able to because we worked very hard to make sure it wasn't just a, just a spin-off.

It interesting just how many reviews said, "You'll be baffled if you don't know the series" and without exception, our experience has been that people who don't know the show at all and have gone to see it have completely got it because it is very gettable. Its only if you know the series, you might think "Well I understand this but nobody else does", you know what I mean? But if you have no knowledge of it, you go and watch it and it is explained to you quite swiftly that, you know, here is a murderer on the loose from prison, here is a businessman, here is a pederastic German teacher, and then they discover their characters are a fictional series, its very gettable indeed, its just… it's kind of the curse of the spin-off, you can't get away from the fact that it is actually based on a tv series. But as I say, we did work very hard to make sure that it would be accessible, really by crediting people with some intelligence. You don't actually have to spoon-feed them every step of the way, a lot of the stuff we took out was too much exposition.

I thought it was quite a brilliant film. I know that one of the main papers here, at the press show I went to…

You're in Belfast?

In Belfast, the guy from the Belfast Telegraph, he didn't understand why the audience liked the film, he found it quite unusual. I don't think he wanted to like it but…

Yeah. I think that's very true as well, you know there's a lot of meanness in the island of ours.

I think what I liked was that it was so different from the tv version; as different from series three as series three was from the first two series of the television version.

Well you know what we've always tried to do, is not just take the easy option, and not just being perverse. We're not trying to annoy people who like our show but it's what keeps us interested. We really couldn't have made a cheap spin-off… we could have done, but we wouldn't have wanted to, it would have been pointless. We spent a long time writing it and coming up with the idea, because it made us laugh because it was interesting, and not just an obvious thing where you know… Somebody, we were in Dublin actually for the first Dublin screening, and at the party afterwards, there were these two guys who were pointed out to me as being big fans, and I was sort of pushed over towards them, and said "So what did you think?" and this guy said [adopts quiet Dublin accent] "I didn't like it." And we were like, "Right, oh!", and actually what he wanted was for it all to be in Royston Vasey [the fictional northern-English town in which the television series is set] and its interesting how, you know, if we'd actually done that film we'd have been crucified for being lazy, if we'd just done like a big-screen version as it were. So you really can't win, that's the problem.

I was actually more surprised that you hadn't done something completely different.

Well, you see this is the process we went through: from the very first stage we always thought we'd have to do something, a total stand alone, something like The Life of Brian, you know. And we did, we wrote some stuff and we talked around it but it was… in the end it was… it just wasn't catching fire in the same way. I think we wrote some funny stuff but it was suddenly like starting absolutely from scratch, and then Steve had this idea about being watched by Pauline in the supermarket and it was just suddenly very fertile, it was like "what if…?"

And then of course, you get in a situation where you're trying to raise the money, where actually if you'd gone to them and said "Look, we have this very successful tv show but we're going to totally ignore it…" [laughs]. So in a way our idea fed into the commercial realities of it which were to some extent they did want a spin-off, but as I say it was much more to do with the fact that that was the idea that made us laugh. I'd like to think if we were able to do another one, we'd kind of established cinematic ground that we're able to do something sort of stand alone, but its very hard to say really because it just depends on what the idea eventually becomes.

Its certainly very different. Its a very literate film I think.

Bless you, again.

It was on a certain intellectual level - an appeal to the "arty" people [the pseudo-intellectual cinephiles and critics] as well as the average person on the street.

Well the strange thing is - its not as cynically contrived as it might sound, but you know that we put the giraffe up front because it's a kind of huge laugh that actually makes… my brother actually loves that bit, and he's my template for all these things - but you can smuggle an awful lot of quite interesting stuff underneath the giraffe semen as it were. I think its very moving film, and Herr Lipp's journey particularly is rather affecting. I think the big thing to remember for us is our series has always been like that, its not just Little and Large, its not a BBC1 show, and it would have been very odd if suddenly the movie totally failed to reflect our own styles and personalities. We knew we wanted to do something that had a bit of weight to it, and was actually quite literate in that sort of way, its just a very different world. Getting a film made is very hard and it all sorts of different pressures had come into it, you know.

You do tease us at the end of the film with that whole credit "The League of Gentlemen will return in The Windmills Of Your Bum"

That's right.

Will there be that film?

Not The Windmills Of Your Bum, but… the thing about tv is you get ratings which are a kind of ludicrous concept as you know because its based on the thousand people that have those things in their tv [in the UK at least a certain number of homes are fitted with devices which monitor what they are watching, and the ratings for the whole country are based on the average of this select portion of the viewing population], and then they scale it from that, a kind of Gallop Poll. The weird thing is we live and die by them, and yet they're ludicrously unrepresentative, they don't take account of second tvs or videos very much, and that sort of thing, so… The thing about film is you can't argue with the figures. If people don't go and see it, they don't go to see it. So its done okay, we're still in the top ten after almost a month which for a British film is not bad at all. But ultimately it will be decided by the dvd sales, and increasingly that's how it is. The few weeks of actual theatrical release are not where its at, I know for a fact Austin Powers wasn't a big hit on its theatrical release but the dvd sales were fantastic, and that's why it became a franchise you know. So we'll have to see. We won't know until after the figures have come in for the dvd, whether there is an appetite to make a sequel.

I imagine with the sales of the dvds of television series, and Live At Drury Lane, it should do quite well.

No, again, talking about the cold light of day, the reason there was an enthusiasm to back the movie is because our dvd sales are very good. So, touch wood. Encourage everyone to buy it three times. But it is a different world. We would love to make another movie, it would be very challenging to try and come up with a follow-up rather than just a sequel. We'll have to see, we've got a lot of possibilities we're… we've been asked to do a new series, and there's another tour, so there's a lot still going on.

I was going to ask about the tour. Apart from asking, why aren't you coming to Ireland.

We might be, the thing is it's an initial run, the first leg, its exactly the same as we did the first time. We booked through from October to December. And it did sufficiently well that we did another few months in the New Year, so what we've done is a similar pattern. So… we had a meeting yesterday and Ireland wasn't on the initial, but I think if we carry on into the New Year then we will.

I might just have to come over to England to see it.

Yes. We did like three or four nights in Dublin, and we did one night in Belfast.

Yeah. I actually missed that last time round. How different is the stage show this year?

Oh, I've no idea because…

…you haven't written it….

…we haven't been writing it. It's a panto-style. Its called The League of Gentlemen Are Behind You. Not, its not a panto in the sense that you could go and see us or Cinderella. It will be our sort of version of it, but that's what we're basing it around. It will be fun for all the family… I hope.

But eh, I dunno. Its interesting. We're kind of… Its like a second tour is a different animal in that you can't, we're not going to do the same sketches as last time or anything like that, but to some extent we did some of the most famous sketches the first time. And the other thing to bear in mind of course is that its eh… when you go and see a show, like going to see a band, you don't want to be presented with their experimental new album.

There's a strong element of catchphrase and familiarity, because that's what you want. You get this response from when people see their favourite characters and familiar situations so that's very helpful of course, because we can put some stuff in that they've seen on the telly, but obviously we can't just do that. There's a lot to be decided yet.

I suppose it's a bit like Monty Python at the Hollywood Bowl, isn't it?

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Any live comedy show, I think the way you do it to keep yourself interested is put maybe familiar characters in a new situation, but also there are a lot of popular sketches people like to see re-enacted. I know I do when I go and see things, you kind of get a buzz hearing a familiar song or seeing a familiar sketch.

Congratulations on your Doctor Who episode [The Unquiet Dead - episode 3].A scene from Mark Gatiss 2005 episode of Doctor Who - The Unquiet Dead

Thank you very much.

I really enjoyed it. I think it was probably my favourite of the series [honestly, I've said that all along, I wasn't just trying to be nice to Mark - The Unquiet Dead felt like old Doctor Who, the Victoriana is like Pyramids of Mars or Talons of Weng-Chiang - simply brilliant]

Everyone says so. [laughs heartily] Its been an amazing experience. We all had our fingers crossed for it, but its been beyond anyone's expectations of success. I mean I cried real tears throughout the series watching other episodes, I was absolutely in pieces.

David Tennant told me the other day that the most he cried was watching an episode of Doctor Who Confidential filmed at the new exhibition in Brighton, with these seven year old kids saying [adopts childish voice] "I like the Sliveen, and the Daleks -they're my favourite." And it is incredibly moving, because it's like us when we were kids. It's just incredible, its happened again.

It's just amazing. It's not a cult programme. It's family viewing. In fact you can sense the ripples of panic going through tv networks because what's happened is Russell [T. Davies, executive producer] and the rest of us have discovered there is a family audience, which everyone had said had vanished forever. So as I say, it's been a privilege and a thrill to be involved with it and I'm doing another one at the minute for it.

I was going to ask any… [attempting to lure secret information out during a formal interview] what's it about?

Any clues?

Any clues, yes.

Not really, it's another historical. It's historical. That's all I can say.

[When I was at school I ran a Doctor Who Society and got ridiculed regularly for it. Back then Doctor Who was only on tv in the form of repeats - at least until the Paul McGann tv movie in 1996. As part of the regular screening schedules, I used to screen the new spin-offs from BBV, like The Airzone Solution, and the PROBE series - written by Mark, billed on their commercial video release as "The British X-Files", and featuring Caroline John reprising her role as former companion, Liz Shaw]

Takes me back. I'm frightened by the fact that my PROBE films came out when you were still at school I think.

I was in my teens then [Mark laughs] '94 [the PROBE series came out in 1994] It was a long time ago.
I've had a couple of moments when I've seen kids in shops - there was one last week in HMV, a boy, he must have been about eight, he was wanting to buy the new Doctor Who dvd and his sister, who can't have been any older than him was lending him the money.

Oh! Fantastic! My only regret in the whole thing, is that they're not doing Target novelisations [for those not familiar with Doctor Who, the Target novels started in the 1970s and were adaptations of Doctor Who serials for a youngish market. The mainstay of many Who fans youth].

I would love… I want Terrence Dicks to do The Unquiet Dead [Terrence Dicks, former script editor on the series, and author of many of the Target novels]. That would make me very happy. Its just brilliant isn't it. I mean a lot of my friends who watched it when they were kids, they know that I'm a fan but that's as far as it goes. I went to a gig yesterday in Hyde Park, and then afterwards I was on the tube with my friend and we just talked about the last episode as if we were talking about Desperate Housewives. There was no shame. It was just great tv. And she'd been, you know, in floods of tears at the end, it's just extraordinary isn't it?


God, it's amazing.

Were you frustrated at all by not being so involved in the pitch - because I know a couple of years ago you did a pitch to the BBC for a new series with, who was it, Gareth Roberts? And Russell?

No, I wasn't. I mean to be honest, when I heard, I got a call from Clayton [Hickman - editor of Doctor Who Magazine] actually at midnight saying "Russell's bringing back Doctor Who" it was like "Oh My God!" But the brilliant thing was, I really mean this, was Russell's idea of bringing it back and our idea of bringing it back are so in tune.

That there's no, I mean I suppose apart from a couple of stylistic differences which were inevitable, I couldn't be more pleased. Its not, its not like its come back and I don't agree with the way its been brought back. You know we were absolutely of a mind. It seems bleeding obvious and it always did, that in order to bring it back you have to reinvent it, and that's exactly what Russell's done.

I've lost count of the amount of times that people have been saying "Is Paul McGann coming back to do a regeneration?" and its like, obviously not because you're trying to get the audience you've actually got, which is a kid who'd never heard of it. And the first thing you're going to get confused about is if [one Doctor changes into another], well why's this happening?

Uh huh.

And that's what I think Russell has done so brilliantly, is parcel out necessary information throughout the thirteen episodes so you don't have to swallow six impossible things before breakfast. You only have to look at the tv movie to see, although it does have its merits obviously, to see that - how not to do it.

It starts inside the TARDIS, so you don't know its bigger on the inside [oh how we laughed here]. It has the Daleks, the Master and the Time Lords mentioned in the first three minutes, and its incredibly excluding. And exactly what did happen, happened - the general audience just went "What's this about?"

Now whereas the way Russell engineered this, is from Rose's point of view, that you meet this stranger, and then you kind of go with him on this journey… its exactly, its just absolutely right, you know…


…Given that, you couldn't ask for anything more… wonderful.

[Star of the 2005 revival, Christopher Ecceleston's surprise departure was leaked to the British press just days after the first episode aired. The BBC issued a statement claiming that Ecceleston had cited a concern over being typecast and the gruelling schedule as his reasons for leaving. They later retracted the statement when it emerged that Eccleston had not said anything. There is some speculation that Eccleston's final decision to leave after just the one season was spurred on by the BBC's statement and handling of the incident. David Tennant was formally announced as replacement a few weeks later - having been tipped on BBC online as the forerunner from the off]

Presumably you knew that Christopher was leaving after a year?

I didn't, no. I mean, I knew before it broke, but erm, but not for a long time. I don't know, I don't know what anybody knew to be honest.


It's all kind of shrouded in secrecy. I mean that, I think that it's a great shame, because you only have to look at how effecting that finale was to realise what an impact he's actually made in one season.

It felt like he'd been the Doctor for three years, because it was so well done. It was unbearable he was going. I think particularly the, the moment where the hologram turns to Rose and says "Have a fantastic life" I just went to pieces.

But I think it's a terrible shame because he's just been really brilliant and so yeah, he's absolutely proved the reason why he did it, which is his versatility and his light touch and his ability to do something very, very family orientated and sort of Saturday night friendly. But David is a brilliant choice and a very good friend of mine and I'm really so thrilled for him.

It's just bizarre though. We keep… we were just doing the commentary for Quatermass the other day and its so strange. [Mark and David Tennant co-starred in the live remake of The Quatermass Experiment for BBC4 in April 2005]. Every now and then just look at each other and its like "What?!" What? He came over to my house to watch Quatermass and he just ending up staying the whole day, and we had a costume fitting [Laughs]
Its just ridiculous. He said to me the other day, someone asked him "Is it true you're a Doctor Who fan?" and he went "Yes" and he said "I'm trying to play it down a bit now" Very odd. But he will be wonderful.

Mark Gatiss publicity shot for the BBC's live Quatermass Experiment (2005)Now that you've seen Quatermass, is that the first time you've seen it since doing it?

Well, we watched it the next day. [after broadcast]


Yeah, the first time we've seen it since, yeah.

How do you find it went? Watching it as a viewer rather than as a performer?

We were doing a commentary so we weren't listening to it in the same way. I mean, I've said this, I say this on the disc, but without being unfair to everybody, I think it was more exciting to be in than to watch. In our head - in our heads, it was so thrilling… live, it felt like it was really taut and everything. Watching it back I think… the aerial shots of London and everything which are held for far too long. I did, we both thought, that it kind of, the first half was extremely good and it's a bit more… it just sort of falls apart a bit in the second half. That's my personal feeling but it's a lot to do with the problem of telescoping six half-hours episodes into one ninty mintueish sort of slot, you know. A lot of the comic relief had to go, and it becomes quite relentless at the end, I mean it's a grim sort of story, but it looses a bit of its - a bit of its shading I think.

Yeah. I was maybe a little bit disappointed with the absolute climax - that it became a cerebral thing rather than…

Well I don't know, you know I was saying again on the [dvd commentary] that I, its a weird thing in retrospect to think that there actually is a rubber monster in [the original] Quatermass

In fact if anything you'd expect that ending [the implied monster of the 2005 version] to be done in the original and in fact it wasn't, it was a rubber monster, I mean I personally would have been happier if we had been able to suggest more. The first thing we talked about was… because it was always that Quatermass was going to see Caroon again, which was very nice, very ghostly, and in fact the other two astronauts were added, it was added later the thought that you see all three, the original idea was that kind of, as it were, behind him you would see all these things thrashing about. So there was a suggestion that in fact he had become this huge creature… it was an awful lot to do genuinely with the fact that it was a live broadcast from one place.

And there were just certain things really it would have been almost impossible to achieve, it would have been nice to have the suggestion of something I know, we all felt that, but in a way I think it does sort of suit the stripped down nature of this version and its worth bearing in mind that its an exp… it wasn't just a recreation, if we wanted to fill in the archival gap…

…uh huh…

…We would have done it full-on fifties and probably it would have been filmed and all that sort of thing, but it was an experiment on The Quatermass Experiment. It was an experiment in live television so it, all those things kind of fed in to the mix you know.

I thought it was very successful. I was actually quite gripped through it.

We were, I have to say as a performer it was the most wonderful exciting thing. We had a lovely time. Everybody had a great laugh doing it, but it was also an amazing bonding experience, simply because it doesn't happen very often - ever really. And there is an amazing camaraderie came out of the whole live experience.

You can see the relief, I think, on everyone's face during the close as the credits…

Well that's the hysterical thing again, because when we were doing the commentary, I was dead by that point. I was in the green room watching it, and the captions were rolling, and I was going "Look they think its finished, they think we're off air" Everybody, David goes and kisses Isla Blair who's like the Home Secretary, who he never met and they're… Aidrian Dunbar just looks right down the camera and winks. Hysterical! But in a funny kind of way it makes, it helps you realise [its] a live event rather than…

Well, there was the Pope went and died in the middle of it.

Yeah. Right over my face! I knew he'd do that. You know the Pope's going to die at any minute, just to spoil it. I think he was hanging on just to see the end of Quatermass, but couldn't quite make it…

Quite probably. I know a lot of the complaints that I heard about it were I think informed by over-familiarity with the Hammer film version rather than the original television version. It was only that I'd seen the new dvd ahead of schedule a couple of weeks beforehand that I was, you know, familiar with the original style. And I think it adopted that very well…


…and as a recreation of even the feel, I think it was superb.

One of the things that you can't get away from really is they were dealing, we were dealing with the same problems they were, and there are only so many ways in a live environment you can frame a shot. It's like fifty years later you've still got one or two cameras….

…uh huh…

…and you're not going to be able to suddenly do something suddenly radically different. So a lot of the time the flavour and the feel of it comes out of the fact that it is the - its same set up, really. Just we have slightly less upper-class accents.

Right. Let's talk about something else. I guess we should talk about Nebulous.


Which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Nebulous was I think the funniest thing I've heard on the radio in years.

Bless you.

I'd just been listening to Hitchhiker's [Guide to the Galaxy] again as well, and you know it was a bit Douglas Adams-y, but I thought it was more in tune with…my head I guess!

We've been working on it really for years. I met Graham doing Dr Terrible [Dr Terrible's House of Horrible, a BBC2 production from 2001, written by Graham Duff]. Initially it was planned as a tv series, as a sort-of spoof Quatermass. It was going to be shot in black and white and all kinds of things, and we, I persuaded everyone that it actually should be a sit-com. We learnt an awful lot on Dr Terrible in terms of spoof and how much legs they have….


Not very much. Especially when you're dealing in slightly heightened territory anyway. The things that lend themselves best to spoofs have been very po-faced, as opposed to Hammer which obviously has a fantastical element anyway.

I think the League do Hammer better than Dr Terrible did. You know, there is that kind of Hammer element in….

David Warner and Mark Gatiss - publicity shot for the first series of Graham Duff's Radio 4 comedy NEBULOUSYes, very much, yes. I was very keen if Nebulous would be… it would first and foremost work as a situation comedy and we worked very hard on the format, on K.E.N.T., the hyper-laundry idea, Nebulous having this clown-fixation thing, and then the individual team members and stuff like that, and I think its really paid off because it feels that it is a situation comedy. You get to know these people very well and you have the fun of just putting them in different adventures, you know…

Is that how you knew David Warner then, from doing that?

From doing?...


No! Oh God, I met him…I met him through David Tennant about three years ago… David got to know him through a friend of his in Oxford, I don't know how that happened but…. I was asked to do a Doctor Who for Big Finish, one of the Unbounds with a new Doctor, they asked me to play the Master which I was very excited about, which I did, and they didn't have a Doctor and I was just talking to David about it and he said "I've just got to know David Warner", and he was very keen - he'd just moved back from America so he ended up playing Doctor Who opposite my Master for Big Finish. And then we wrote the part for him in the film and I've kind of worked with him ever since [laughs]. So then we did the Nebulous pilot not long after that, so obviously we got him in to play Doctor Klench.

I think he's very good in that.

Oh, he's fantastic. There are things in it, actually there are things in it where erm, 'cus we remade the pilot…

Oh yeah. I've heard the pilot as well. So…

Yeah, but we actually took several of David's lines from the pilot because they were never the same again and they were so brilliant…. There were things like "Wasthereanythingelse!" [shouted and slurred] and oh, I think the line "What if all the chickens dried up", he's just got this genius for that kind of line, he can just make an ordinary line really hysterical with aggression, and this strangely sort of classless voice he has where he just suddenly sounds sort of common. It was just so brilliant, so we just used a lot of those. They were perfect.

So you're doing another series, is it, November or September ?

Actually I think, touch wood, we're going to do it next month.


Because, we had to put it back slightly, but I think everyone's come free in August. We're going to hopefully do it next month.

Graham's written I think five or six. We had such a wonderful time doing it, Graham Crowden was an absolute delight. It was just such a lovely job to do. And I just, I mean I said at the time, if we'd had twelve written, we just would have carried on we were just having such a good time. I'd love to carry on doing it.

Do you have much creative input into the scripts then?

What we did, 'cus we formatted it together, I came up with KENT and stuff like that I think - we very much worked it up from the tv idea and tried to make the personalities very… we've got a lot of work in it together, but once that was done I was very keen that Graham authored it, you know. Obviously it's his project…


And I did want to do a lot of work on making these characters right and memorable, particularly Nebulous, I wanted to do something different to what I've usually done, you know. So after that what we've gone for, and what we're going to do again, in fact we're going to have a meeting about it, Graham's done early drafts of these things but we always talk them through and maybe suggest some changes, and some additions and then even when it gets to recording it…

What we discovered last time was lots of catch-phrases were developing, which we hadn't actually thought about. And once you feel them coming you start to sort of write them in a bit more you know. Its more stuff like that. And also suggesting story ideas I suppose we've had a lot of - I don't know if we're going to do it this time but, we drew up a big list of stuff we'd brainstormed together including one about, [which] I think we might be doing, where everyone's journey to work is starting to take slightly longer and it turns out the world is expanding because of the success of anti-global warming. Actually, I think Nebulous has to solve it by burning down the rainforest!

The great thing is, I think having got a very adaptable, flexible and good format, you can kind of chuck all your favourite sci-fi clichés at it, you know, and do big Doctor Who-y monster stories and kind of time-travel stories and moonbase stories, and things like that. They all feel like it adapts very well to it.

I loved that Claws of Axos parody one, with the…

Yeah, that was one of the first ideas we had, 'cus of course it was going to be tv and I was very keen it had very beautiful men in it. But I said the one we should do a spaceship crashes, and a yokel - it was going to be like a farmer with a pitchfork - he goes over the brow of the hill, and there's this crashed spaceship and three incredibly beautiful men, naked men come out, and he just goes "Pwoar!"

That would be fun, and everybody falls in love with them. I really love the way that came out, and then it sort of evolved more into the boy band idea, Graham's idea of that, and I love the way they all have individual sort of "talents".


Quiet one, and the sporty one. Yeah, I think its really funny that one. My favourite is The Coincidence Machine. I think that's terrific.

Yeah. I think they were so well written. I'm really looking forward to the next series.

Hopefully we'll have some more guest stars as well this time, but it was just a joy to do. We had such a good time and it's a lovely thing just to feel that, and also now getting back together it's got a sort of old school feel. Its lovely to reconvene, and Graham Crowden was so… it was his birthday on the last day of recording last time and he just said "I can't tell you what this has meant to me," you know, 'cus he's 82… And it was just wonderful. He just loved it, he was just kind of in it, his bits tend to be sort-of isolated as it were within the episode. But he was a delight to have around, and we just sat at his feet and gazed into his majesty. He was hysterical and had the most brilliant stories and he just loved doing it. And everyday we'd say "How are you Graham?" and he'd say [adopts gruff theatrical voice] "Hanging on, dear boy! Hanging on!"

Do you prefer writing or performing then?

I love 'em both. I mean, what is that line in Kind Hearts and Coronets, "How happy could I be with either were t'other dear charmer away."
I always miss writing when performing, and exactly the other way round. I find writing very satisfying because of the amount of control you're able to have of your own thing and your own vision as it were. I love appearing in things, actually to be honest the kind of acting I tend to like the most is when I've nothing to do with the writing. It's simply because you don't have the same pressures.

I've just done, I'm doing some more, but I've just done the first episode of Funland which Jeremy wrote with Simon Ashdown, and my first day of filming was the day after the premiere of the movie, and I was very tired and had been talking for like three days non-stop to press and that. And I'd just got the train up to Manchester and I just thought "Oh I wish this was another day I'm just not in the mood, you know". But actually it was really refreshing, liberating, I put the costume on, it was a totally new set of people, and I had a really great time and I felt reinvigorated by it you know and that's something I really love about acting in other people's stuff - you go into it with just that hat on, rather than two. The League - we're across the whole production, its very difficult sometimes to keep everything on the ball and in the air at the same time.

So something like the Lucifer Box series [Mark's new series of novels, starting with The Vesuvius Club] you're doing must be quite different again, from all of that.

Yeah, I mean its very lonely 'cus its just me, and its very different really. And of course if - I've forgotten this lesson from writing Doctor Who books - but the reason that books take so long is because you've got to write so many more words. It's not like writing a script. But I've just started the sequel which I'm not putting a finite date on 'cus I'm sure a lot of things will intervene, but I'm very excited about it….cover art for the paperback edition of Mark Gatiss novel The Vesuvius Club

The second one?

The second one, yeah.

I thought that was due out later on this year originally.

You may actually see that on Amazon it's supposed to be out this year, but it isn't, believe me. I'm afraid not, it's not ready yet.

I read last night in another interview, that you're moving it twenty years into the future?

That's right yeah.

Is that still the case?

Yes. Its set about 1928/29, because I became very interested with, originally it was going to be three Edwardian sort-of stories and when I was finishing The Vesuvius Club I thought, I think I've done Edwardian-pastiche and I just suddenly thought, wouldn't it be great to do one set, like a sort of Thirty-Nine Steps, and then I thought "Oh my God!" and then I could do one when he's very old, like Fleming [Ian Fleming, creator of the James Bond books].

You were saying about Casino Royale.

Exactly, not even, not like a big You Only Live Twice Fleming, but a very kind of early spy Fleming. So that's what I'm hoping to do. The Devil In Amber is set in the late 20s early 30s when Box is middle age, and feeling his age, and is sort of being challenged by younger agents and then the last, the third one will be when he's elderly, I'm not quite sure how I'm going to handle the sex scenes with that.

Then I'll go back and do some prequels. I'll do a full-on Conan Doyle 1890s one and a First World War one. You can go on forever!

No sign of you doing anything else like… I read your James Whale book..

Oh God!

Yeah. That was a bit of a surprise when I came across it.

That was a long time ago.

I thought, what's Mark Gatiss writing a James Whale book for? [and perhaps more pertinent, how come I haven't heard of it before!]

Well I love his stuff and I mean… I'm not very proud of that book I can tell you that.


No, not a lot of it is my own work I have to tell you, but I was very young - much younger. And I was commissioned to do it and then I kind of panicked because it was difficult to find any new information so it was just a bit of a pointless exercise really but… I love those movies and I think Whale was a genuine, genuine auteur, extraordinary talent. So well done for finding it, wherever it is.

Its sitting beside me actually. I mean I guess….

…It's a great story, a very interesting story, a lot of people have told it a lot better.

Uh huh. I was just surprised kind of you never did any more criticism like that.

Well I mean the part of it I had the most problem with was critiquing the films because I don't know whether you can sort of learn how to do it but I didn't feel very qualified, I can give my opinion of them, I didn't go to a sort of film-criticising school; I just felt I was sort of giving my version of events rather than I suppose giving a genuine critique of the movies. Its funny, I've thought occasionally over the years that I might like to do something like that again but it's a very different thing, a very different way of working.

I think I'd have to find someone that no-one had ever done, in order to… I love biographies, I always read biographies. I just read a book about the Mitford Girls which is just fantastic. I think I'd have to find someone who is slightly lost to history in order for the research to be very interesting, to be an interesting thing where you felt that you were just discovering someone that the story was worth telling and of being a bit forgotten rather than doing the fifth book about Dickens or Peeps or something - that doesn't really get me going the same way. That's what I might [do some day].

That's always the hassle I have trying to write to write anything about Hammer.

Exactly. The problem there is it's been done very badly a lot of the time. And it's a shame because if you feel you have something brand new to say its difficult to get it off the ground because people say "That's been done".

Yeah. I always want to say they were rubbish by the end [I was being a little harsh here. I do feel that the last thirty years haven't been properly evaluated, ever though, and the quality had dropped].

You can say that.

But its one of those things, you try and argue it with people, somebody needs to be objective here.

But don't you find, I find the funny thing about Hammer is when I was a kid they used to show horror double bills, I couldn't wait to get through the black and white ones to get to the Hammer, and my opinion is totally reversed now. I love the black and white Universals, and a lot of my favourite Hammers.

Christopher Lee dying once more, in Hammer's Dracula Has Risen From The GraveWhat I've started to do recently is watching horror films on a Friday night again, and you'll be pleased to know, unless you do the same thing, that it feels the same as it ever did. Something about Friday nights deserve to be Horror Night. So I've been buying an awful lot of old horror films on dvd. And things, Dracula Has Risen From The Grave which I loved as a kid is just terrible.


It's so boring, It's so slow. It does of course have him impaled on a cross but that's it! And yet something like Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde which I kind of routinely dismissed, I loved it when I saw it again. I thought it was a really funny, clever pastiche by Brian Clemens. All the Jack the Ripper, the stuff on Burke and Hare, it's that sort of giddy mixture of Victorian clichés. I loved it. That tends to be, that seems to be the pattern, it's almost like, without being perverse, the less celebrated ones are much more fun. Plague of the Zombies is a fucking masterpiece.

That's my personal favourite.

Brilliant film. And The Reptile as well. Dracula: Prince of Darkness is quite ponderous, it's got lovely things in it, but it takes its time. Satanic Rites of Dracula, I really enjoyed. It has no reputation at all. Its better than 72 [Dracula A.D. 1972] I thought. Maybe something to do with I didn't know it very well, but I thought it was really refreshing. Actually kind of maybe they could have updated this you know. Yeah, its funny how your opinions shift isn't it?

Christopher Lee as Dracula, punishing Patrick Troughton's Klove in Hammer's Scars of DraculaI think I've had a similar experience. I mean my first Hammer was Scars of Dracula.


And I think that was also where I discovered Patrick Troughton.

Ah ha!

You know, so it had that dual effect.


People were saying to me, "He was Doctor Who", and I was like "Was he?"

Yeah, God how strange.

'Cus I remember getting Box of Delights on video when I was a kid and people telling me he was Doctor Who …


… and it didn't register.

I can imagine the magic of that. I have similar stories, I suppose about Target books really. Chris Achellios' cover for the Target novel of The Three Doctors


I can, I can remember where I was when I got the novelisation still, they kind of trigger something Proustian. The cool blue spine of The Abominable Snowmen has a flavour to me that I can identify, you know what I mean? I remember going to get it, and I was reading The Daemons at the time and I couldn't wait to finish it so I could start The Abominable Snowmen.

My sister particularly always used to laud it over me because she had seen it since the beginning, and she'd say "Oh yeah, I remember that one". You'd go "Oh God!"

Yeah… the Target ones are something I think we all go through as fans. My brother and I both used to scour the bookshops for them. We'd take a batch of them and devour them in an hour and a half each volume.

Yeah, I mean they're so… I never read, I've never gone back to one. Not since I was a kid, but I can remember - the first one I got was The Three Doctors, I remember everything about it, the beautiful orange cover, the Chris Achelios drawing and everything and I… it was magic. That story has such a special place for me in my heart. Mostly because of the book, because of what it meant to me.


Oh, its funny isn't it...



©RJE Simpson 2005

page posted 29 August 2005
reformatted and reposted 23 August 2006

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House of Horror: The Unofficial Hammer Films Site © RJE Simpson 1999 - 2006
Site launched Sunday 8th August 199999