Last year, Gary Ryan visited the set of Fresh Meat to meet the cast of the superior student sitcom. It returns to Channel 4 tonight at 10pm.
With fans ranging from Prince Harry to Radiohead, Fresh Meat, the comedy drama about six undergrads at the fictional Manchester Medlock University, is one of the best-loved shows on British TV. Devised by Peep Show creators Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, it achieves the tricky feat of accurately summing up what it’s like to be an undergrad: by turns funny, poignant and pissed.
With fear of life outside their 28 Hartnell Avenue digs looming during the final series, which starts tonight on Channel 4 (February 22), braying posho JP (Jack Whitehall, above far right) is paid a visit by his David Cameron-like brother, Tomothy (Richard Goulding); Vod (Zawe Ashton, second from left) struggles with mountainous debt, and Kingsley (Joe Thomas, far left) finds a new love interest in student support officer Rosa (Ayda Field), having ended his relationship with Josie (Kimberly Nixon, third from left) last series. Meanwhile, overachieving Oregon (Charlotte Ritchie, second from right) is planning her legacy as Student Union President, while Howard (Greg McHugh, third from right) has banished himself to the cellar as “the Fritzl of revision.”
As new addition Tomothy puts it, “You have six months to live. This is Adolf’s bunker before the Allieds arrive,” and there’a a sense the tight-knit cast are relishing their remaining time together…
How does it feel being back?
Joe: “It’s nice to be back in their house. The set is amazing and it was quite emotional going back into that, because we’ve had a two-year-gap this time so it’s been more nostalgic coming back….”
Kimberly: “Because everything is exactly the same.”
Jack: “Except our faces.”
Kimberly: “Except our faces which are all so much older than the age we’re supposed to be.”
Jack: “Yeah, it’s a lot longer in make-up now.”
Kimberly: “We start at about four in the morning.”
Jack: “The emotional bit hasn’t quite come yet, but it’s definitely on the horizon. When you look at the call sheet, you look at that last day of filming and think, ‘Oh God, there are probably going to be some tears.’ I’m quite highly strung.”
Joe: “We’re all quite emotional. I’m all over the place.”
Will you all be together in the final scene?
Kimberly: “No, because Charlotte leaves a bit earlier.”
Joe: “She’s a traitor who ran off to film Call the Midwife.”
Jack: “She’ll be weeping into Miranda Hart’s bosom.”
Did you always know there would be a fourth series?
Kimberly: “When I was doing series three, I thought it was the end. When I watched series three, I realised it wasn’t. Then it was just a case of logistics – how are we going to do this? We’re all jobbing actors – Charlotte got Call The Midwife, I spent the whole of last year in a Sky medical drama [Critical]. “Joe, did you do a little film?””
Joe: “I did a little film, yes. [The Inbetweeners 2].”
Kimberly: “This is a shorter series than the previous ones, but we all wanted to make it work and we felt we needed to say goodbye properly to it.”
How did you feel when you read the final scripts?
Charlotte: “I got really goosebumpy. It’s a significant ending. You get nostalgic for something that hasn’t ended yet.”
Zawe: “I’ve gone into Vod’s self-protection mode, dismissing it as “Pfft, just another chapter ending!’ ‘Cos it’s been such a huge part of our lives – not just our careers. Our friendships are strong. We keep trying to psych each other out to try and make each other cry as a way of distracting from our own sadness.”
Kimberly: “I got moist-eyed in the read-through.”
Joe: “It’s sad because leaving university is a poignant time anyway…”
Jack: “I never graduated. Don’t rub it in. When we graduate on the show, we all got photos in our gowns and stuff and a certificate, so I got one printed and sent it to my parents. They said it’s the proudest day of their lives and they’ve hung it next to my sister’s – but hers is a real degree from Manchester and mine is from a fictional university. my dad’s face lit up after all those years of telling everyone I was a failure.”
Kimberly: “We all feel that we’ve had more of a university experience doing Fresh Meat. Because Jack left, Joe was in Cambridgeland…that’s not a real uni, is it?”
Joe: “It’s a theme park.”
Kimberly: “And me and Zawe went to drama schools. So we felt like this gave us a second crack at it to just do the fun bits of uni.”
Zawe: “I have a feeling it’s going to be a delayed grief where you’re like ‘I’m cool with it now,’ Then you have the wrap party and maybe six months later, you just end up throwing a load of soup off the shelf in a supermarket.”
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Is JP destined for the family firm?
Jack: “JP’s destiny is very much laid out for him. My brother Tomothy turns up and tells me it’s time to pull my finger out, put on my dad suit, and get a job in the city at this firm he’s lined up for me. The whole series is about me either trying to escape or embrace my destiny of being a city banker.”
Kimberly: “JP and Tomothy are very funny together. There’s scenes where they’re having these unbelievably posh back and forths together, and I have no idea what they’re saying. I don’t need to act.”
Do we see any more of Kingsley’s music this series?
Joe: “There’s a plot where he’s trying to get a job in the music industry, so he has to get his opinions together. But he doesn’t play guitar or sing in this series, so sorry fans. I think we’ve run out of serious musicians who are prepared to write a song for us! Graham Coxon has apparently got something else on! [Mock-sighs] There was a time when I thought we might end up in a band together.”
Jack: “Jason Orange has some time on his hands.”
Can you imagine revisiting your roles in the future?
Kimberly: “In your head, you want to see where these characters. You want to see Josie and Vod bump into each other in ten years time and not recognise each other. I think in ten years, Josie and Kingsley could still be really good friends, and be like, “Remember when we used to shag at uni?” Either that, or they’re on a housing estate with three kids and Josie knocking back Chardonnay all day.”
Joe: “I want it to be the new Our Friends In The North, where it goes all the way through and becomes this epic thing, and we see off government after government.”
Kimberly: “Shall we just keep going like 7 Up! until one of us dies?”
Zawe: “I feel people will want to see Vod in ten years time after she’s been headhunted by MI6 or is Head of Google or something.”
There have been murmurings of a Fresh Meat film since 2012. Any chance of it happening?
Zawe: “I don’t know why we haven’t done a film. What’s great about these six characters is you can put them anywhere. You can put them in comic book form, a film, or little 30-second Vine scenelets.”
Jack: “Having been in meetings where you’re trying to get money for a film, I can understand how hard it is to fund a film.”
Vod has to face up to the fact she’s accumulated the student debt the size of a small nation’s GDP…
Zawe: “She’s working hard. She feels like she wants to make something of her time at uni rather than her usual self-sabotaging behaviour. The money becomes a symbol of exactly how on her own she is. and where she goes after this finishes – it’s not going to be the scenario of her mum and dad picking her up in a Volkswagen and taking her stuff back.”
Vod is frequently named one of the coolest characters on TV. Do people expect you to be a wreckhead in real life?
Charlotte: “When my mum met Zawe, she was like, ‘Oh God, she’s so refined! She’s so graceful! She’s nothing like Vod!’”
Zawe: “I judge it by the person as to how much I’m my real self. I was buying a handheld hoover once – Vod wouldn’t need one of those, apart from to make a bong out of. This guy came over, hands trembling, and gave me a flyer to his hand using lines like I had in the series. I just went into Vod-mode and said [she adopts an air of sniffy disaffection] ‘Cooool.’ “But then I saw Ian Brown in the blender section of House of Fraser filming last time, where I had the opposite experience, thinking, do I go over to him and say [slips into Vod’s mannerisms]: ‘Dude, are you keeping on it! Woah, party mix!’”