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Rose d'Or Spotlight: From law to laughs with 'Spy'

24 June 2013
Rose d'Or Spotlight: From law to laughs with 'Spy'
Charlie Leech from Hat Trick productions accepts the Rose d'Or for best comedy for Spy. (EBU)


Eurovision talks to lawyer-turned-writer Simeon Goulden about the beginnings of his 2013 Rose d'Or winning sitcom Spy.

Simeon Goulden was disappointed not to be able to attend the Rose d’Or awards ceremony on account of returning from a stint in the United States where he has been working on a pilot of the US version of Spy.

“It was a great pity that I couldn’t be at the ceremony,” he confesses, “as winning this award is a great honour for me personally and the whole Spy team. It was perhaps even more satisfying since we were pitted against highly respected opposition, BBC’s The thick of it and Twenty Twelve.”

Spy has been in Goulden’s life since 2009, after pitching it as a television idea to Hat Trick Productions.  “I originally envisioned it as a post-watershed show (i.e. after 9 pm for a more adult audience), featuring an abrasive child giving his single father a hard time, but Sky were looking for a primetime family show with a bit of an edge to it,” he says.

The programme centres on the hapless Tim—played by Darren Boyd, who won a BAFTA for his role—who quits his dead-end job in order to win the approval and affection of his scornful son Marcus of whom he has recently won custody. But his life takes a bizarre turn when the IT job he applies for turns out to be spy work for MI5. Verbal dexterity and physical comedy pair up to create a laugh-out-loud show that embraces the awkward and the absurd.

“In fact, the situations and the humour only needed minor tweaks to play at the earlier timeslot. I always felt that it would be a mistake to try and 'write down' to children or to write what you thought others might like. I only ever write to entertain myself and just hope that a wider audience will enjoy it too, be they adults or kids.”

Simeon Goulden, creator of Spy (Hat Trick Productions)

Actor Jude Wright plays Tim's eleven-year-old son Marcus, who is rather unforgiving and verbally cruel. “Marcus looks like an angel but says the most despicable things to his father,” remarks Goulden.

Despite this and the usual caveats about working with kids, “Jude proved to be a terrific actor and very easy to work with,” and it is the strength of the entire cast that Simeon considers to be at the heart of the show’s success. “The show wouldn’t have been half as good without such strong performances in all the roles, particularly the key parts played by Robert Lindsay, Rebekah Staton and Mat Baynton. Robert shone as the Examiner and quickly became many viewers’ favourite character.”

Goulden has particularly relished the opportunity to wear several different hats—namely writer, creator and producer.  “Hat Trick Productions have been incredibly supportive right from the start backing me to also produce my first show. Jimmy Mulville (Executive Producer and one of Hat Trick’s founders) really champions his writers and this was so important in allowing the show to retain a distinctive voice and clear vision.” Sky TV was also willing to put on a show that pushed at the edges of the traditional family-oriented comedies usually seen on network television. “They allowed me a great deal of creative control which was brave of them seeing as I was a relatively new writer,” he says.

While not commissioned by Sky TV for a third series, there has been interest in the US.  “I think American audiences often look towards British comedy for a slightly less saccharine view of the world,” he notes, “but tonally Spy is probably still a little bit too abrasive for US network television.”

With a colourful background that includes a previous life working as a lawyer to writing about a prostitute in ITV’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl to seeing Robert Lindsay carelessly playing with ninja stars, what’s next for Goulden?

“I have been working on Spy almost solidly since 2009 with the second series taking up an entire year (six months to write, three months to film and three months in post production), so in many ways I feel ready to move on to an entirely new project.  I am currently working on a new comedy that is likely to be much darker and more adult than Spy,” he says. “But as with Spy, the characters are always the most important thing to me. If you can make them interesting then the viewers are going to enjoy watching them struggle.”

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