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“We ran out of ideas. It was like coughing up nails,” says Daisy May Cooper, co-writer and star of hit BBC mockumentary This Country. “It was just really fucking hard.”
Daisy-May and her brother and co-star Charlie are telling NME about the decision to bring an end to their acclaimed comedy, which is currently in its third series. Witty and surprisingly poignant, This Country follows cousins Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe as they go about their everyday lives in a rural village in The Cotswolds. Unemployed and lacking any kind of opportunities, a typical episode sees the no-hopers battling boredom in their small corner of England, encountering increasingly bizarre side-characters who provide entertainment and hilarious sub-plots.
Starting life on BBC Three in 2017, the show has gone on to become both a bonafide cult smash and critical phenomenon. They’ve won two BAFTAs and established a legion of fans in the process – Sam Fender and Ellie Goulding are just two of the high-profile viewers who recently expressed their love of the programme.
It’s testament to their success, too, that the Beeb decided to promote season three by rolling out huge adverts of Kerry and Kurtan’s faces on the backs of double decker buses across the UK. Daisy has also been immortalised as a statue that was recently installed outside the character’s beloved Swindon Town FC.
The series’ concept came to the Coopers in 2010, when they found themselves unemployed and back at home after Charlie had dropped out of university and Daisy completed her acting degree. As they battled joblessness, the siblings channeled their frustrations into tales of the memorable hometown characters who had shaped their childhood.
But almost a decade later, the show has firmly established the siblings as two of the UK’s hottest comedy talents. But there’s been controversy too; Daisy found herself on MailOnline’s worst dressed list after wearing a dress based on Swindon Town’s football strip to the BAFTAs. Not that she gave a rat’s arse, following it in 2019 with a dress made entirely from bin liners, accessorised with a head-piece crafted from a bin lid with a plastic pigeon sat atop it. The money she saved from not buying a designer gown went to a local food bank.
“I’ve backed myself into a corner now, what can I possibly do next?” she jokes. “Either fully naked or the costume has to have some sort of aviation element to it.”
Meanwhile, Charlie, a keen fisherman, has had the graced the pages of Angling Times and described the unlikely honour as his “best interview ever.”
With This Country now enjoying global attention – the Coopers were recently profiled in The New York Times – the pressure for season three to be even better than the last is real. But viewers can rest easy – the series sees the Coopers delivering their funniest and most emotional episodes to date.
The siblings say that there is a “bit of growth” for Kerry and Kurtan in the final part of their story, but insist that it is very much business as usual for the characters – who have consistently manifested the concepts of isolation, disenfranchisement and being left behind by modern society.
With these frustrations firmly in mind, how do the Coopers think Kerry and Kurtan would have voted in the Brexit referendum – a vote widely viewed as Britain’s forgotten voices attempting to strike back against the establishment?
“I think they would vote for Brexit, although they wouldn’t know what it fucking meant!” Daisy jokes. “Kerry sees a lot of herself in Boris Johnson! They look the same. They’re selfish, they’re lazy and they love their grub. I mean, Boris Johnson is Kerry.”
If season three shows that nothing much has changed in Kerry and Kurtan’s fishbowl lives, they do tease more screen-time for the characters around them, including Paul Chahidi’s Vicar – who is constantly brought increasingly close to meltdown by the pair.
“You find out why he cares about Kerry and Kurtan so much, but there’s also a lot more of the vicar’s ego,” explains Charlie. “In the third episode in particular, there’s a storyline where he’s helping Len [a local pensioner] and he needs to feel important. He needs to feel like he’s making a difference, and as the series goes on you find out that he doesn’t have so much in the village anymore, and he loses his place a little bit.”
From the outside looking in, This Country couldn’t be in a stronger position. So why end it now? The Cooper siblings say that leaving things where they are avoids an inevitable dip in quality, but also that the tragic death of co-star Michael Sleggs – who played constant thorn in Kerry and Kurtan’s side Slugs – also played a huge part in their decision to call it a day.
“It just didn’t feel the same,” explains Daisy. “He was such an integral part of the show, and it just felt like a massive void without his presence.”
The first episode of the third series, aptly titled ‘A Letter From Slugs’, contains a moving tribute to Sleggs’ memory with Kurtan reading a scene-stealing, handwritten message that Slugs wrote before his death.
“Hey Kurtan, if you’re reading this letter then it probably means I’m six foot deep,” he reads. “Not with a chick this time lol, just in the parish cemetery.”
It was important to everyone to keep the show’s humorous tone, says Daisy, in order to pay the right kind of tribute to Sleggs, who died in 2019 aged 33 of heart failure.
“When he first died, I went to his sister’s house because he’d had some requests on his deathbed about what he wanted to do for series three,” she adds. “One of them was that he wanted his *actual* coffin to be in the first episode of the series, which was unethical and well, just impossible.” Additionally, Chahidi was asked by Sleggs if he would officiate his actual funeral. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he turned the offer down.
Looking to the future, the Coopers aren’t exactly short of work. Daisy was recently seen in Veep creator Armando Iannucci’s modern take on Charles Dickens’ The Personal History of David Copperfield and is now beginning work on The Witchfinder – a new BBC project with comedy poet and frequent Alan Partridge fixture Tim Key. Charlie recently shared scenes with Steve Coogan in big budget social satire Greed.
But rather than running off to the bright lights of Hollywood, the pair are keen to keep their roots in the UK. They say that filming the show has, ironically, helped them develop a new appreciation for life in rural Gloucestershire after years of wanting to break free.
“I spent a few years wanting to be in London but I think writing the show was therapy, and it made me fall back in love with home,” says Charlie. Daisy, who lives with her husband and two-year-old daughter, says she “loves” being at home now. “That’s where I feel safe. Everyone knows us.”
However, it’s not so easy to escape Tinseltown when it has you under a spotlight. In an unexpected twist, the pair recently welcomed Bridesmaids director Paul Feig to their home town of Cirencester, after it was announced that he is set to head up a US adaptation of the series.
“He just came to our local pub and it was brilliant, very surreal,” says Charlie of Feig. “He’s a lovely guy and they’re in the process of writing the pilot episode which they’ll film in a couple of months.”
Away from work, the pair are now hoping to relax a bit. Charlie, a lifelong fan of Fulham Football Club, plans to spend more time following the beautiful game, while Daisy wants to indulge her love of the paranormal and plans to take “a bit of time off to go ghost hunting.”
Daisy’s love of the paranormal is a long-standing interest – and one that’s indulged with the level of creative license that you might expect from a sitcom writer.
“On Facebook, I once created the Cirencester Ghost Society and made a load of ghosts up that ended up getting in the Wilts & Gloucester Standard,” she laughs. “Now, there’s a ghost tour of Cirencester and it’s rubbish! They’re literally ghosts I made up, like a headless dog that runs down Coxwell Street. There’s also a ghost cleaner who I said you can smell in a pub because you can smell bleach.”
Ghouls aside, a bigger question still remains – have we really seen the last of Kerry and Kurtan? Charlie was one of the 18.5 million viewers who tuned in for the return of Gavin & Stacey on Christmas Day, a decade after it last aired. According to Charlie, This Country returning for a similar festive jaunt isn’t too unlikely.
“Never say never, you don’t know how we’ll feel in a few years time, and we’ll probably be itching to return to it after a bit of a break,” he says. “But after watching the Gavin & Stacey Christmas special, you just think ‘I’d love to do something like that’, where everyone can just sit down and watch it on Christmas Day with their friends and family – that’d be pretty special.”
Daisy, meanwhile, reckons that Kerry and Kurtan could be ripe for their big screen debut – and points to the upcoming film version of People Just Do Nothing – BBC Three’s other runaway mockumentary hit of recent years. “That’ll be the test!” she says. “If that makes loads of dosh, then we’ll definitely do a film! If it doesn’t, then we definitely won’t.”
Even more exciting is another idea they say they’ve got up their sleeves. “There’s an idea about a journalist who writes for NME,” Daisy jokes. “He ends up getting bottled at the BRIT Awards.” We’d certainly be up for it.
BBC Three’s This Country continues on Monday nights from 7pm on iPlayer and 10.35pm on BBC One.
Design: Simon Freeborough