Is this the best sitcom you might never get to see?
She’s the novice writer who penned a promising sitcom, he’s the showbiz chauffeur who persuaded one of his celebrity fares to star in it. And, after remortgaging their house to get it made, all Kay and Jerry Lockett need to do now is get someone to broadc
IMAGINE having a go at writing a sitcom for the first time.
Then imagine it being so good that even one of Wales’ biggest acting stars agrees to star in it for peanuts.
Picture then having to tell that award-nominated actor, who’s also a huge hit in America, that his character actually dies in the first 10 minutes – while, embarrassingly, having sex in a rundown caravan.
But that’s one of the main reasons Matthew Rhys initially agreed to be in Down The Caravan in the first place – The Americans actor slipping his brief and scantily-clad cameo into a rare break from filming the Stateside spy drama in New York.
“I’ve been a showbiz driver for decades, ferrying various actors and actresses around the place,” says Jerry Lockett, whose wife Kay wrote the formative draft after undergoing a six-week creative writing course.
“I’ve known Matthew ever since he did his first film, House of America, in 1997 – so when I picked him up from the airport I thought, ‘Why not?’ and handed him a copy of Kay’s work – which I’d printed off without her knowing.
“He read it and said it was absolutely brilliant, adding that he’d be back it the UK in a few weeks and, if I got a handful of other actors together, we could do a read-through at Pinewood Studios.
“But when I went home all excited and told Kay, she was like, ‘Oh my God, you did what? I only wrote it for a laugh’,” says Jerry.
Born from the couple’s time spent in their own static home down in Laugharne, the story centres on Dai Hyatt, the dubious owner of a rural caravan park, whose ticker packs in halfway through some rather vigorous extramarital coupling.
However, his family end up having an even bigger shock at his funeral service, with Dai revealing via a videotaped message that he’s leaving half his business to his long-suffering wife, the other 50% to his mistress, in whose arms he’d passed away.
Written four years ago, with Rhys shooting his scenes in 2016, the 30-minute pilot episode has proved a real labour of love for both Jerry and Kay – the pair even remortgaged the house in Llantwit Fardre they share with their two teenage daughters in order to finance it.
“We started crowdfunding last August and raised almost seven grand, after which we approached some private investors. And then we remortgaged our home,” adds Jerry.
“It’s cost us about £130k to make it – so, yeah, we’ve got quite a lot riding on this.
“Put it this way, by this time next year we’ll either have a really posh house somewhere or all four of us will actually be living in a caravan,” he smiles.
Directed by Rhyl-born Sara Sugarman – of Very Annie Mary fame – and described as having “a lot of heart” amidst all the laughter, it also features the likes of former Casualty star Jan Anderson, stand-up comic Mike Bubbins and Melanie “Gavin & Stacey” Walters.
With comparisons to the work of Peter Kay being bandied about, Jerry and Kay are currently touting around the finished footage to prospective TV stations in the hope of generating interest.
“We’ve had an ex-BBC comedy commissioner look at it and he said it was great, although he did recommend we knock seven minutes off to get it down to half an hour,” says Kay, who’s been back in the editing suite in order to slim down the run time.
“We’ve also had a couple of successful screenings – including one at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff – both of which were invaluable in helping me see which jokes worked best.
“The good news is that all the laughs seemed to be in all the right places – we even got a few big belly ones where I was only expecting gentle chuckles.
“So that was a real confidence-booster for me because it was my first attempt at a script of any kind – I didn’t even know how to write in script form.”
A 38-year-old community carer, Kay adds that she and Jerry have been overwhelmed by the generosity of everyone they’ve met since making the Down The Caravan pilot.
“All the actors agreed to appear for a cut price – the crew too.
“Our daughters, who’ve both been behind this since day one, worked as runners on the set and we also got a drone loaned to us for nothing.
“Bless the caterers too – they dropped their prices as low as they could go.
“Best of all, one couple whose house we used for filming down Sully way were so impressed with the rough cuts we showed them that they donated £10k to help us complete filming – that’s how much they believed in it.
“And it was reactions like that which helped us to decide on the remortgaging of our place. We figured that if complete strangers have this much confidence in the material, then so should we.
“Also, because most production companies were unwilling to take a punt on an unknown quantity such as us, we knew we had no other choice but to form our own.
“So what we’d both like, should the pilot get picked up and turned into a full series, is to keep that tight little team together, since it seems to work so well.
“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, as they say.”
Shame they killed Matthew Rhys off so spectacularly in the opening episode, though – there aren’t many homegrown sitcoms that can boast a famous face from Hollywood as a recurring character.
“Ah, but we’ve thought of that eventuality,” laughs Kay.
“Matthew’s already said that if we get a full series we can bring him back as Dai’s twin brother.”
For more information about the progress of Jerry and Kay’s sitcom go to www.facebook.com/ downthecaravan
Kay on set with Hollywood actor Matthew Rhys
Kay and Jerry Lockett