WHAT is it like interviewing Robert Florence and Iain Connell, the comedy writing double act who have brought us TV gems such as Legit, Burnistoun and the upcoming BBC Scotland mockumentary-style series The Scotts?
Well, as you might guess, it is delightfully chaotic. And rather good fun. It is a midweek morning and as proceedings get underway, Connell is pondering out loud whether he may need to conduct our conversation from the floor.
“I should have had the foresight to charge my phone up before an interview,” he laments. “I might have to be lying beside the skirting board with my wee tiny charger plugged into the wall.”
Connell is flying solo at this stage. Florence is running 10 minutes late and due to join us on the line at any moment. While we await his arrival, Connell is talking me through the premise of their latest collaboration, The Scotts.
After a successful pilot episode last year, the full five-part debut series is set to begin on Monday. Styled as a spoof fly-on-the-wall documentary, The Scotts draws much of its tongue-in-cheek inspiration from glitzy US reality shows.
Think Keeping Up With The Kardashians meets The Real Housewives of Glasgow as it charts the eye-watering antics of a dysfunctional Scottish family, complete with candid confessionals and no-holds-barred access to their lives – warts and all.
“Robert is quite a big fan of that type of show,” says Connell. “As we were batting ideas back and forward, that came up: ‘What if we told the story of a family and use that kind of setting?'”
Less familiar with the reality TV format, Connell got himself up to speed by binge-watching a few different series. “I thought: ‘Aye, that could maybe work as a nice wee different way to tell the family stories,'” he recalls.
Connell plays Henry, a salt-of-the-earth scaffolder who strives to be the glue of the Scott family, with Florence as Vincent, an egotistical cosmetic surgery guru with a penchant for the finer things in life.
The cast includes Scot Squad’s Louise McCarthy as their sister Colette, a self-described “influencer” and aspiring pop singer, with Lee Greig (a professional wrestler who goes by the ring name Jack Jester) as her fitness-obsessed, long-suffering boyfriend Darren.
Moira Scott, the formidable family matriarch and mother of Henry, Vincent and Colette, is played by Rab C Nesbitt and River City star Barbara Rafferty.
Shauna Macdonald, who starred in The Descent and White Chamber, is Vincent’s martini-swigging and uber glam partner Vonny, with Sharon Young, whose past TV roles include Outlander and Shetland, as Henry’s sweet, peacekeeping wife.
The cameras follow the Scotts as they raucously sip beers in Vincent’s hot tub, sing karaoke and spill secrets at a girls’ night in Colette’s living room, cheer on Darren at an ill-advised fighting bout and generally end up waist-deep in the quagmire of tricky family dynamics.
Florence, who has now joined us, picks up the thread of the conversation. He is a big aficionado of reality TV? “Totally,” he attests. “Me and my wife Jenn, we watch all that stuff. We watch all the Real Housewives shows – my favourite is The Real Housewives of New York City.”
Connell chips in, saying: “I told you he was the expert.” Florence, meanwhile, is warming to his theme. “New York and Beverly Hills are my two favourites,” he says. “Orange County is good too. But The Real Housewives of New York City is by far my favourite.
“People often think these shows are trashy, but I don’t think they understand how difficult it is to make a great show like that. The characters are fantastic. I am more of a Real Housewives person than a Kardashians person to be honest, although I like that as well.”
There was no need to flip a coin to decide their respective roles – Florence was a shoo-in for Vincent. “I always like playing big-heided, a***hole characters,” he says. “That is me in my comfort zone. When we were coming up with the show, it was one of the first characters that jumped into my head.
“Watching these reality shows, I am always amazed by the cosmetic surgery guys. They have the vibe of being geeky, kind of losers, who got lucky in the right profession and are now in this world of glamour even though they don’t completely fit in.
“Not that I am saying they are all a***holes, but what I mean is that it is the perfect job for Vincent. I knew from early doors that would be a cool character and the kind that I wanted to play.”
Connell laughs as he agrees with that statement. “I think a character like Vincent is the reason why a show like this might be happening in Scotland,” he says.
In contrast, Henry has signed up to the show out of a misplaced sense of duty. “Vincent has probably persuaded Henry to do it,” says Florence. “Vincent has said: ‘This will be good for my business’ and Henry, always looking out for the family, has said: ‘Oh, I suppose we will do it then.'”
Florence and Connell first met as teenagers at the amateur youth theatre project, Toonspeak, in Springburn, north Glasgow. Their big break came when the pair were recruited by Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill to join the writing team for Chewin’ The Fat.
They went on to co-write the sitcoms Legit and Empty, as well as creating the popular sketch show Burnistoun. Testament to their close bond, Florence and Connell have a shorthand that comes from being friends for almost 30 years.
“It’s not 30 years. Don’t age us that much,” says Florence. Have I got the maths wrong? Connell jumps in to confirm the sums are indeed correct. “Aye, Robert. It is 30,” he says. A pause. “Is it?” asks a perplexed-sounding Florence as a good-natured exchange follows.
Connell: “What age were you when we met?
Florence: “I was 15.”
Connell: “What age are you now?”
Florence: “I am 44.”
Connell: “Do the subtraction.”
Florence: “Jesus Christ. Aye, pretty much 30 years.”
Moving on from that bombshell, we touch briefly on the comedy landscape in Scotland. Ever since Kiernan and Hemphill called time on Still Game in 2018, there has been feverish interest in anything that could tickle the nation’s collective funny bone.
Connell and Florence deftly sidestep any suggestions that they might aspire to fill the sizeable hole left by Still Game. “That is the most popular Scottish show of all time, so it is not going to be replaced by anything,” says Connell. “You just hope to find your own wee space.”
Both love The Broons, the long-running comic strip in the Sunday Post. I wonder if The Scotts could be seen as a 21st-century, reality TV equivalent?
That notion is politely-yet-firmly given short shrift. “I wouldn’t want to say that – I think they might be a bit filthy for The Broons,” chuckles Connell. “We do like The Broons.” Or as Florence puts it: “We definitely want to take over from The Broons as Scotland’s favourite family.”
Nor do they intend to stop there. What’s next? “A Burnistoun film,” says Florence. That sounds exciting. “Aye, we have been working a wee bit on a script,” confirms Connell. “That is on the cards.
“But on the other side of things, we don’t plan out our careers in any way. We maybe should have by this point. But we go from one thing to the next, kind of whatever takes our fancy. We never go: ‘Let’s plan out six projects in advance.’ We have never done that.”
They have forged a distinctive style. Their goal isn’t simply being funny for funny’s sake. Each razor-sharp line or outlandish scenario seeks to plant a seed for a future plotline. Watching the pilot and first two episodes of The Scotts, you can see that arc begin to take shape.
A family comedy, they believe, brings the most scope for longevity. “There is the danger because we are a double act that you make it a double act show very much focused around us,” says Connell. “We decided early on: ‘Let’s not do that, let’s expand it out.’
“The pilot was maybe a wee bit more heavily focused on us two. With the series, there is less of that. And if it goes on for years and years, eventually we will just be popping up for one line and giving everyone else all the patter.
“We will gradually disappear and just do the writing side of things. It was important to us that this is very much an ensemble show.”
The Scotts begins on BBC One Scotland, Monday, at 10.35pm and BBC Scotland from Thursday at 10pm. All episodes are available on BBC iPlayer from Monday
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