This Coun­try

Are you one of the mil­lion-plus view­ers tun­ing into the new BBC mock­u­men­tary This Coun­try? Filmed in North­leach, it fol­lows cousins Kerry and Kur­tan as they bat­tle the lows and the even-low­ers of grow­ing up in the ru­ral Cotswolds... bore­dom, un­em­ploy­ment,


A brother and sis­ter from Cirences­ter are cur­rently the ris­ing stars of the BBC with their heart-break­ingly funny de­pic­tion of life in a Cotswold vil­lage. Katie Jarvis went along to meet Char­lie and Daisy Cooper

In ru­ral Bri­tain to­day, stud­ies show that young peo­ple feel more marginalised than ever.

To ex­plore this prob­lem, the BBC spent six months film­ing with some young peo­ple in a typ­i­cal Cotswold vil­lage.

BBC Three – This Coun­try.

“Over there, we saw Lau­rence Llewe­lyn-bowen once. And once in the shop. And once up Burleigh Hill, rid­ing his bike, didn’t we?” “And in the Co-op. Be­cause I was walk­ing in the Co-op and he was com­ing out and I said, ‘After you’ and he said, ‘No, after you’. He’s so hum­ble.” “So hum­ble.”

(From Episode 1, Scare­crow.)

I’m in an of­fice above the Corinium Mu­seum in Cirences­ter, sur­rounded by odd bits of taxi­dermy that Char­lie Cooper got “re­ally cheap” at auc­tion. Stuffed game birds. Maybe a fer­ret – I’m not sure; I don’t look too closely – def­i­nitely an antlered stag on the wall. Each frozen-in-time an­i­mal is wear­ing ei­ther a bob­ble hat or an even jaun­tier piece of tin­selled head­gear.

(Tra­di­tion-meets-bling). (Kind of like sub­vert­ing Cotswold mus­tard-coloured cords with a Nike hoodie.) We’re await­ing Char­lie’s sis­ter, Daisy, who’s be­ing driven here (to the of­fice where they now write their com­edy mock­u­men­tary, This Coun­try) by their mum.

“We’ve got a re­ally old camper­van but it broke down when we were go­ing to pick Daisy up,” Char­lie apol­o­gises. “She lives in Sid­ding­ton.” “No! Not in Lau­rence Llewe­lyn-bowen’s ac­tual

ac­tual AC­TUAL vil­lage?” “She does! And, fun­nily enough, Daisy was at the Wild Duck yes­ter­day and bumped into Lau­rence’s wife, Jackie, and they got talk­ing. Never met her be­fore.”

That’s the thing about grow­ing up in the con­fines of a small Cotswold vil­lage: the odds are al­ways against you. No mat­ter how hard you try to es­cape ru­ral poverty – no mat­ter how hard – your chances of end­ing up the sub­ject of an ASBO, or of bump­ing into a Llewe­lyn-bowen, are far far higher than the na­tional av­er­age. Harsh. So is Jackie hum­ble, too? “Daisy said, yes, she’s even hum­bler. Which is great. A hum­ble fam­ily.”

This Coun­try. Maybe you stum­bled across it by chance, as I did. Or maybe some­one rec­om­mended it to you. But fans of the BBC’S lat­est Cotswold com­edy sen­sa­tion are breed­ing faster than coaches in Bour­ton-on-the-wa­ter. It’s a very, very funny, closely-ob­served mock­u­men­tary (so con­vinc­ing it fooled many early view­ers), fol­low­ing cousins Kur­tan and Kerry – “Not only is he my cousin; he’s my best mate as well” – around the mind-ex­pand­ing spa­ces of North­leach.

And I mean all over North­leach - right from the KGV play­ing fields, all the way to the coun­cil houses, be­hind the Wheat­sheaf, where Kerry lives.

It’s the story of two young Cotswoldians, told kitchen-sink style, who’ve lived their en­tire lives in one small vil­lage where ev­ery­one knows ev­ery­thing. Kur­tan is ob­ses­sive, bossy, des­per­ate for recog­ni­tion. Kerry is all bravado; wants ev­ery­one to think she’s a hard-nut, when all she re­ally longs for is a bit of love and at­ten­tion from her mostly-un­in­ter­ested, di­vorced dad.

Nor does the series merely fo­cus on North­leach - be­cause the purview of their lives reaches dra­mat­i­cally fur­ther. “I’ve got en­e­mies in North Cer­ney. I’ve got en­e­mies in South Cer­ney. I’ve got en­e­mies in Cer­ney Wick,” Kerry re­veals.

Char­lie and Daisy, who write the series and play the cousins, couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent from their al­ter egos. Be­cause they’ve spent most of their lives in Cirences­ter and not North­leach at all.

Look – Char­lie and Daisy Cooper are not Kur­tan and Kerry. Let’s get that clear from the off. So not Kur­tan and Kerry. For one thing, Daisy is wear­ing a pretty, heart-dot­ted jumper rather than a Swin­don Town Adi­das foot­ball shirt. And Char­lie’s hair­cut – in real life - looks noth­ing like Gareth Keenan’s from The Of­fice.

Ac­tu­ally… what is Kur­tan’s hair­cut all about? Can you gen­uinely get your hair cut like that in North­leach?

“I don’t know if there’s a bar­ber in North­leach. But Kur­tan is the sort of guy whose Nan would cut his hair.” “With a bowl,” Daisy adds. “He’d have had the same hair­cut from the age of six.” “Yeah, ex­actly the same.” “That’s the thing. In Lon­don, if you go to a bar­ber or a hairdresser, they’re go­ing to cut your hair in a trendy way. But in Ciren, the hair­dressers have got mag­a­zines from about 10 years ago on the ta­ble. So you just get what you get.”

It’s not sur­pris­ing some view­ers have been taken in by This Coun­try’s doc­u­men­tary style. It’s shot in fly-on-the-wall close-ups, sub­jects talk­ing directly to cam­era. And so closely ob­served by these two wickedly clever ac­tor/ writ­ers that, even as I’m talk­ing to them, it’s hard to say where fic­tion ends and real life be­gins.

“What was re­ally funny was where this guy wrote on the BBC web­site, say­ing, ‘I think it’s dis­gust­ing the BBC are ex­ploit­ing these two re­ally sweet peo­ple [Kur­tan and Kerry]. They might be a sand­wich short of a pic­nic but they’ve got good hearts,’” Daisy laughs.

“I thought, oh my god. If we’ve con­vinced one per­son, we’ve achieved.”

In fact, the two of them started writ­ing the series sev­eral years ago when they were both liv­ing away and des­per­ately home­sick. Char­lie, now 27, had dropped out of a sports sci­ence de­gree at Ex­eter. “Hated it. Ab­so­lutely hated it.” At a loose end, he went to sleep on older sis­ter Daisy’s floor in Lon­don, where she was study­ing at RADA and pretty much hat­ing that, too.

“I worked in Top Shop for a few months – did var­i­ous jobs - but I think that’s when our re­la­tion­ship ‘proper’ started,” Char­lie says, “We got re­ally close, both be­ing away from home for the first time. That’s when we were talk­ing about ideas and try­ing to make each other laugh about peo­ple we knew from town.

As they talked, they be­gan to write things down.

Such as scenes in­volv­ing char­ac­ters lifted from their school days. Like their old wood­work teacher, Mr Perkins, whose death they cel­e­brate in the sec­ond episode.

“I don’t think Mr Perkins is too happy about that. He is still alive.” “And he is a wood­work teacher.” “But be­cause we don’t ref­er­ence his first name or the school, we got away with it. It was noth­ing to do with his per­son­al­ity. It’s just the fact that the name was funny – Pur­rrr-kens – said in a West Coun­try ac­cent.”

Other vi­gnettes were deeply per­cep­tive; things

that would only hap­pen in the claus­tro­pho­bic con­fines of a ru­ral com­mu­nity. Such as Kerry’s yearn­ing for a dad she con­stantly sees on the vil­lage streets, but who’s now wrapped up in his new young fam­ily.

“That was kind of about a friend of ours, whose dad hadn’t been in­ter­ested in him for years and who then had some younger kids,” Daisy says. “What fas­ci­nated us was that they lived in the same re­ally small place of Cirences­ter, and so they’d bump into each other all the time. But it was like two ships in the night. They’d go, ‘All right?’ ‘Yeah, fine’.” “Like ac­quain­tances.” “Yeah – and that was his dad. And we found that fas­ci­nat­ing, didn’t we?”

Other friends and re­la­tions fol­lowed. ‘Slugs’ is based on their close friend Michael Sleggs, who ac­tu­ally plays the char­ac­ter on screen.

“He didn’t re­alise the char­ac­ter was any­thing to do with him. He went up to Daisy dur­ing film­ing and he goes, ‘I know who the char­ac­ter is based on’. And Daisy’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m sorry mate. I hope you’re all right with that’. And he said, ‘It’s Paul Fisher, isn’t it.’”

“He’s a great writer, though,” Daisy adds. “We went to Pow­ell’s [Pri­mary] School to­gether and I’ll of­ten say, ‘Will you write some­thing about what it was like to be at the Pow­ell’s School fete in the sum­mer of 95?’, and he’ll write five chap­ters on it and they’ll be re­ally funny.”

Their un­cle – a pro­fes­sional ac­tor – plays the vil­lage grump, Len. And even their dad is in­volved (their mum re­fuses to be in it): de­spite never hav­ing acted be­fore, he plays Kerry’s dad - feck­less peep­ing-tom Martin Muck­lowe - with breath-tak­ing bril­liance.

Both their par­ents, they say, have been in­cred­i­bly sup­port­ive. After Lon­don, the two of them moved back home – to the two-up, two-down the fam­ily rents in Ch­ester­ton (they had a big­ger house in Ashcroft Road, but had a rub­bish time of it dur­ing the re­ces­sion) – where they per­fected their writ­ing and bom­barded TV chan­nels un­til the BBC came up trumps.

So what are the dy­nam­ics of the real Cooper fam­ily? “Mum rules the roost.” “She’s an ab­so­lute an­gel. Do any­thing for any­one.”

“She’s got loads of birds – four bud­gies, five finches, and a par­rot. And then, after all that, it’s dad in the food-chain.”

“He’s be­tween the bud­gies and the ze­bra finches. He’s slightly above the bud­gies be­cause they crap ev­ery­where.”

“You’re very much like mum, aren’t you?” Daisy says.

“Yeah,” Char­lie agrees, clearly mo­men­tar­ily flat­tered. “You’re both very sulky.” “Arghh! No!” “Yeah, you are. And I’m like dad. Me and dad are both nar­cis­sis­tic…” “id­iots.” “bores.”

The heart­en­ing thing about This Coun­try – de­spite its themes of ru­ral iso­la­tion, chav­dom and ex­treme sweari­ness (the only as­pect the chair of North­leach Town Coun­cil was at all wary about) – is that Kur­tan and Kerry are so gen­uinely like­able.

“That’s some­thing we re­ally wanted to get across. Our dad worked in the in­clu­sion area at Deer Park School with quite naughty kids. But if you gave them any sort of at­ten­tion, they just com­pletely thrived.”

“The char­ac­ters were loosely based on this brother and sis­ter from our town, who were at our school – the girl was the year above Daisy and the boy was the year above me. They were no­to­ri­ous for be­ing the hard-nuts and they were very in­tim­i­dat­ing.” “But lost souls at the same time.” “It was all bravado.” What about Daisy and Char­lie, though? Will the filthy lu­cre of suc­cess change them?

“We’re ab­so­lutely pen­ni­less,” Daisy says. “I’ve just checked my bank and I’ve got £1.77.”

And they still row, like broth­ers and sis­ters do; just like they al­ways did.

“Even this morn­ing, he re­ally an­noyed me. Be­cause I rang him up and said, ‘Where’s mum? Can you get mum to pick me up?’ And he said, ‘No, the dog’s had di­ar­rhoea ev­ery­where.’’” “Yeah, well, it had.” “But you sounded an­noyed with me!” “I wasn’t an­noyed with you! But I’m not go­ing to ring you up, sound­ing all happy, and go, ‘Guess what! The dog’s just s**t on the car­pet’. Why would I say that?” “It’s your tone. You don’t have to use that tone.” “Yeah, but you have an easy life. You just have to wake up and we pick you up in the morn­ing. I have to sort out ev­ery­thing at home…”

‘What fas­ci­nated us was that they lived in the same re­ally small place of Cirences­ter, and so they’d bump into each other all the time. But it was like two ships in the night’

Kerry (Daisy May Cooper) with the Dump Gang.

Kur­tan (Char­lie Cooper), and Kerry (Daisy May Cooper)

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