Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton on the twisted third series of Inside No. 9
THE DARKLY COMIC anthology series Inside No. 9 (which sets each instalment in a place linked to the titular digit) has become a cult TV favourite since its launch two years ago, with creators Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton recruiting a roster of fresh stars, from Gemma Arterton to David Warner, for each new show. With the first episode of Series 3 airing over the festive season and five more following early in 2017, we asked Shearsmith and Pemberton to talk us through their latest twisted tales…
THE DEVIL OF CHRISTMAS
Steve Pemberton: It’s about a group on holiday in an Alpine cabin, who become convinced they’re being plagued by the Krampus. The beauty of doing an anthology series is you’re free to take it off in any direction, and we decided to film this one exactly like an [episode of ] Armchair Thriller from the 1970s.
Reece Shearsmith: It’s not full-on Acorn Antiques, but we did go back in time to a ridiculous degree. We shot it with really old technology at Elstree over two days. All the cameramen were over 70, because no-one knows how to film that way anymore. Nothing like it has been shown on TV since 1979 — we had to get special dispensation for it to be broadcast.
Pemberton: It was just a nice experiment, in the same way that in the first series we did a silent episode and in the second we did one on CCTV.
Pemberton: One day we were sitting having lunch in Muswell Hill and saw three people arguing over whose turn it was to pay the bill. They all wanted to be magnanimous in front of the others.
Shearsmith: It’s a bit like Art, Yasmina Reza’s play — four friends argue over a very small thing and it just escalates. This row just gets bigger and bigger.
Pemberton: We thought, “Can we make an argument about a bill last half an hour?” And, well, we did it. PRIVATE VIEW Shearsmith: Some characters are invited to a private view of an art exhibition. None of them know why they’ve been chosen. Pemberton: It’s always a designer’s nightmare
once you set something in a gallery, because you have to create a room full of original art. We put in a lot of mannequins, which is sort of shorthand for “something bad is going to happen”. It’s a dark episode but funny as well. I play a health and safety officer; Reece is an art lecturer. Felicity Kendal, Fiona Shaw and Peter Kay are in it, too.
Pemberton: The title is the literal meaning in Japanese of “karaoke”. My character has been promoted and is celebrating in a karaoke booth with his office colleagues. But of course there’s lots going on beneath the surface. The story is told through the songs they pick. Shearsmith: It was probably the most challenging one to make. We were in a square box with a glitterball and it was like hell for a week. I’ve done musicals, but had never actually done karaoke before.
Pemberton: We’d spend a whole day on one song, so by the end, talk about an earworm. Everyone would be humming Whigfield’s
Saturday Night. We all went a bit mad.
THE RIDDLE OF THE SPHINX
Pemberton: The idea was: “Can you dramatise the completion of a crossword?” Something which is inherently unfilmable. We have a professor who is trying to teach this young girl, played by Alexandra Roach, how to solve a cryptic crossword. So within the episode you get a mini-tutorial. But it’s also a thriller in the vein of Sleuth. Shearsmith: When the BBC got the script they said it was like a cross between Sleuth and Educating Rita. But they also said it read like it had been written by psychopaths.
DIDDLE DIPPLE DUMPLING
Pemberton: We came up with this story literally on the way to the office. We saw this shoe by the side of the road and thought, “Who would leave that there? And what if someone became obsessed with finding out who it belonged to?” Reece plays the man who slowly becomes fixated on this shoe.
Shearsmith: When I was doing Hamlet at The Royal Court [in London] I saw a single shoe on the King’s Road. I texted you, didn’t I? You start seeing them everywhere once you start looking.
INSIDE NO. 9 IS ON BBC TWO IN LATE DECEMBER (‘THE DEVIL OF CHRISTMAS’) AND CONTINUES IN EARLY 2017