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)