Interview: Charlie Cooper, BBC’s This Country
- Credit: BBC/Ollie Upton
Smash hit comedy This Country has returned to our screens. Katie Jarvis caught up with Charlie Cooper to find out about his Cotswold Life
When Charlie Cooper went off to university in Exeter, it was the first time he’d lived away from his home town of Cirencester. And, despite his love-hate relationship with the place, he desperately missed it. As he and his sister, Daisy May – at drama school in London – shared reminiscences in a series of homesick phone-calls, they began to realise they had an idea for a TV comedy hit.
This Country – first broadcast on BBC Three last year – is a mockumentary, focusing on the lives of Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe, cousins living in rural isolation in a small Cotswolds village. Written by and starring Charlie and Daisy (along with various friends and family members), it’s been dubbed the best British comedy since The Office. And it’s also helped raise awareness of some of the darker sides to rural life.
“We never set out to make any political statement, but a lot of young people from poorer rural backgrounds do feel neglected,” Charlie says. “The best comedies are always the ones that balance warmth, the funny stuff and, at the same time, tragedy,”
Certainly viewers would agree with the second series available to watch on BBC iPlayer now.
Where do you live and why?
I live in Cirencester because I’ve always lived there. When I was at uni, I used to lie about where I was from – my god, the embarrassment! You can’t be credible and come from a pretty little market town in the Cotswolds. But doing this show has been cathartic; we’ve been able to get a lot off our chests about what we really hate about the Cotswolds: the boredom; the isolation; the lack of career opportunities. And also what we love about the Cotswolds: the countryside; the pace of life; constantly bumping into people you know. I’m genuinely proud to be from here now: it’s such a strange turn.
How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?
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Born and bred here. Me and Daisy both went to Powell’s [primary school] in Cirencester; then to [Cirencester] Deer Park. I went to Ciren College and Daisy went to Swindon College. Daisy ended up going to RADA in London - drama school - and I went to Exeter Uni to do sports science. It was after we’d both left and were homesick that we began to feel such a strong sense of identity about where we were from. We’d talk to each other on the phone about people we knew – all sorts of memories. It sounds tragic but it’s sweet, in a way. You don’t know what you have until you’re taken out of your environment.
What’s your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?
I’d get up at 5.30, put all my fishing stuff in the car, and go to the River Thames near Lechlade. I’d have my radio for when the football results come in but, other than that, I wouldn’t think about anything except catching fish. Pure escapism. When we’re writing, me and Daisy put our heart and soul into it, and that’s emotionally draining. You’ve got to have something where you can completely switch off.
If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?
I live with my parents but I’m in the process of moving out and I’m finding it hard to get somewhere to rent that’s affordable – and that’s coming from someone who works. I don’t really mind where I end up as long as it’s fairly isolated with a bit more space. Coln St Aldwyns, where Daisy now lives, is beautiful.
And if I had a load of money to spend on helping young people in Cirencester? I’d build a massive waterslide from the top of the parish church, all the way through the town, up Tetbury Hill to the amphitheatre… Can we make it happen?
Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?
Bibury would stress me out a little bit.
Where’s the best pub in the area?
The Woolpack in Slad. Such a unique pub: ramshackle-y; and the décor hasn’t been changed for years.
And the best place to eat?
I quite like the Crown in Cirencester: we’ve always gone there – the hub of socialising.
What would you do for a special occasion?
Daisy had a baby – Pip – on January 4 (I think it was) and she’s absolutely smitten. I don’t think she’s even changed a nappy yet – her boyfriend has been doing all that – but it’s absolutely nuts seeing my sister as a mum. I’m sure we’ll have a party to celebrate that. Pip weighed 8.5lbs - but I only remember that because it’s the size of a pretty big fish. Daisy might think giving birth is harder than landing a fish of that size, but I beg to differ.
What’s the best thing about the Cotswolds?
The countryside. You take so much for granted when you’re young; but the more stress life brings, the more you want to retreat from real life. I find so much peace in walking or fishing. All my friends have city jobs - I’m literally the only one who still lives here. I used to want to move to London but I don’t envy them at all now.
... and the worst?
There was a ‘State of the nation’ report [by the Social Mobility Commission] a few months ago, showing the Cotswolds as one of the worst places in the country for job opportunities and affordable housing for young people. It justified so much of what we’d written about. I still don’t think these issues are flagged enough. All these housing estates, hidden away on the edge of towns like Bourton-on-the-Water, as if they’re servants’ quarters. All the issues the police have to deal with. We did some filming at Stow police station, and Sarah Crawford – one of the officers – helped us with correct police dialogue and other useful stuff. She was describing things that go on around here and it was quite overwhelming – problems I never knew about. She’s offered to take me out in her patrol car to see what she gets up to, which would be fascinating.
Which shop could you not live without?
I’d be pretty screwed without Tackle Den in South Cerney. I once caught a 13lb barbel at Buscot on the River Thames. Probably the greatest thing I’ve ever done.
What’s the most underrated thing about the Cotswolds?
It’s not underrated but we’re definitely going to support the new Barn Theatre in Cirencester. Iwan Lewis [the artistic director] did a musical at the parish church and Daisy said it was one of the best things she’s seen, so she’s keen to help out and do all she can.
What is a person from the Cotswolds called?
A country bumpkin. Or Kerry and Kurtan, of course. We once met this guy in a pub, who was talking about his mate Kurtan and what a massive laugh he was. As soon as I heard the name, I could picture what he looked like. I loved how it sounds, particularly in an accent.
What would be a three-course Cotswold meal?
For me, it would be a Scotch egg to begin with; sausage and mashed potato for main; and apple crumble for dessert – homely and British.
Kerry and Kurtan would start with Dairylea Dunkers; potato waffles, chips and beans for main. (A lot of carbs, all locally sourced.) (From the Coop.) Then an Arctic roll for dessert.
What’s your quintessential Cotswolds village and why?
For This Country, we did a recce of various towns and villages, like Bibury, Stow and Moreton-in-Marsh. But we chose Northleach because it was small enough to be really isolating and mind-numbingly boring but also not too big to be exciting: perfect middle-ground.
Name three basic elements of the Cotswolds
The smallness of everything is such a big part of the show and such a big part of where we live; and the specificity, too. Someone like Mandy, as hard as she is, has a really sweet passion for doing tattoo drawings of Disney characters.
Strong relationships: you don’t really have a choice. People like Kerry and Kurtan use each other for entertainment.
And humour: in the best comedies, there’s always a balance between warmth, humour and, at the same time, tragedy. Kerry’s relationship with her dad is so tragic.
What’s your favourite Cotswolds building and why?
I love the parish church. When you’re coming into Cirencester on the Bibury road, you can see it from miles away and it’s: ‘Yes! I’m almost home!’
What would you never do in the Cotswolds?
I’d never go shooting, although some people would argue that fishing is shooting. I’ve got a parrot at home – Claude, a 60-year-old green Amazon – who is so wise. He was alive when the moon landings happened, which is phenomenal. He says, ‘Hello!’ and that’s it, but he does say it with a bit of a Gloucestershire accent.
Starter homes or executive properties?
This thing going on at Chesterton Farm – that’s crazy. [An application for up to 2,350 new homes, employment and associated facilities at Chesterton, Cirencester.] Even though I’m looking for somewhere to live, I hope it doesn’t happen. It would be horrendous how much it would change this town and the surrounding villages.
What are the four corners of the Cotswolds?
For a Cotswold person with no transport, the four corners would be in their own town. (I don’t think I’ve ever been to Chipping Campden.) So my four corners are: the amphitheatre on the Chesterton estate; Ciren Park (anything past the perimeter would be no man’s land); the exotic island of Siddington; and the farm shop on the Bibury Road. Wouldn’t go any further than that.
If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?
The tea towel from my old primary school; it’s got drawings we did on it of all our faces. It’s useful, and it reminds me of the summer of 96 – one of the best summers of my life.
What’s the first piece of advice you’d give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?
Always take cash to pubs because most of them don’t have card machines. Nor do they all have wifi so make sure you have data on your phone.
And which book should they read?
Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee, or anything by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. He came round to Daisy’s house for drinks and it was amazing – that was the most star-struck I’ve ever been. Also, Cotswold Life magazine, which I personally never used to read (sorry), and definitely never expected to be in; so that was a lovely surprise. The only time Kerry and Kurtan would read it would be waiting in a doctor’s surgery… And when I say ‘read’, I mean flicking through the pages back to front in a matter of seconds before throwing it down and doing the same with Horse & Hound.
Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?
Our office is in town so, if we ever have any blocks with the writing, we tend to walk through Ciren Park and talk. When you’re walking and you stop thinking, it sometimes just comes to you. It’s great to have that on our doorstep.
Which event, or activity, best sums up the Cotswolds?
Scarecrow festivals, like the one we went to in Chalford once. You can spend as much money and time as you want but you can’t ever make a scarecrow that doesn’t look funny. I love it when people try and make them serious with some sort of message. Hilarious but heart-wrenching.
If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?
Down the corridor from our office is where the traffic wardens’ office is, right by the toilets. Sometimes they leave their door open and I get a glimpse inside: it’s a different world – like the Bonecruncher in BFG. They’re Public Enemy No 1, which is so sad; they walk round town with the weight of the world on their shoulders. If I had an invisibility cloak, I’d go in there to see what the atmosphere was like. I’m fascinated by them.
To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?
There was a homeless man in Cirencester, Kenny Cook, who was the biggest celebrity. Everyone knew him and everyone had a different story about why he ended up being homeless. I wish I’d written all of them down because some were brilliant. Like he owned this huge manor house somewhere in the Cotswolds but he chose to live outdoors. Or there was another that he invented Facebook and was a millionaire but didn’t want his identify blown so he pretended to be homeless. At school, that’s all we’d talk about. Maybe he’ll appear in This Country further down the line but he definitely deserves a blue plaque on the tree he used to live under in the Abbey Grounds. I haven’t seen him in a good three or four years, which worries me.
The Cotswolds – aspic or asphalt?
What’s wrong with being preserved in jelly? Let it be.
With whom would you most like to have a cider?
I would say Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, though that’s already happened. He’s been really kind about the show. We picked him [to talk about in This Country] because he’s the biggest celebrity around. I’ve got footage on my phone of me following him around town before This Country happened. ‘Guess who I saw in Waterstones! Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen!’ ‘Really! What was he doing?’ ‘Looking at a book!’ It’s such a big part of your life.