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on Fri, 30 Nov 2018
British sitcom Benidorm has been entertaining television audiences for more than 10 years. Featuring a cast of holidaymakers and staff at the Solana all-inclusive hotel, the hit ITV show - twice voted ‘most popular comedy programme’ at the National Television Awards - came to an end following its 10th series earlier this year. Its creator and writer, Derren Litten, has now adapted the show for the stage.
Ahead of Benidorm Live’s Christmas run at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham, What’s On met up with Derren to find out what audiences can expect from the production.
What inspired you to pen the original series of Benidorm, Derren?
I never had any aspirations to write, and hadn’t written before, when I was approached to write some material for Catherine Tate’s Edinburgh show. She was my best mate at drama school. Following this, I went on to write and perform in Catherine’s TV show. It was after the second series that legendary comedy producer Geoffrey Perkins asked me to write my own sitcom. I definitely didn’t want to do ‘The Derren Litten Show’, but he asked me to pen a comedy narrative. I didn’t really know what that meant at the time, but I started writing a sketch about two middle-aged swingers from Middlesborough. It was funny but a bit dull, basing them in their living room in an obscure suburban house, having their swingers AGM, so I thought I’d better set it somewhere a bit more exotic. It shows you how my mind works that I didn’t set it somewhere like Barbados! I originally set it round a swimming pool; not in Benidorm, just a generic all-inclusive package-holiday location. I hadn’t been to Benidorm at that point but had heard lots about it. I also like the single word ‘Benidorm’, with the number of syllables, so that’s the reason I called it as such. I wrote two episodes. Then, when ITV commissioned it, I thought I’d better go and see what the place was all about!
Who were the first characters you created?
Donald and Jacqueline. I told Geoffrey (Perkins) about them and he asked me to imagine who else would be around the pool, so I thought back to some rubbish holidays we’d had as kids and went from there. The next characters I created were the posh couple, Martin and Kate, who’d come to the wrong place for their holiday. I thought they would be most horrified by this grubby pair of middle-aged swingers!
Why do you think the series remained so popular for so long?
I don’t know. If I knew the secret, I’d write another one! Well, I’m trying to do that at the moment, actually. I’ll tell you what I thought the secret was, but I was completely wrong. If the show ran for more than one series, I thought I’d change the characters; stick with the one family, perhaps, but change all the others. However, after the first series, I found the characters were so popular that we just brought them all back! For 10 years we kept most of the same characters, and not one person has ever questioned why they all return for their holiday in the same week each year. As long as the viewers are having fun watching, they don’t seem to mind.
Why have you brought Benidorm to the stage?
It seemed a natural progression. Historically a lot of shows have done it, including Dad’s Army, Are You Being Served? and Hi-De-Hi, and they’ve all had very successful summer seasons. We’ve been trying for five or six years to bring Benidorm to the stage. We were first asked in series three, but the producers wanted it to play in arenas and I wasn’t keen on that idea. People have watched the show on television for 10 years, so why sit at the back of an aircraft hangar and watch it on TV again?!
What’s been the most challenging aspect of adapting Benidorm for the theatre?
I didn’t really think of it as a challenge initially, but once I’d finished the script, a lot of people asked how on earth we were going to do it. People who’ve seen the live show said that before it started, they couldn’t imagine how it would work, but it just does. I’ve made a living as a writer for the last 10 years - one show is luck but 10 is a bit more than that. I don’t deny the success of the show, but I don’t know how it all happened!
With which character do you most empathise?
It’s got to be Pauline, who’s Johnny Vegas’ character’s sister. When I created her, I got completely obsessed! I once drove to a garage and found some chocolate Brazil nuts, and I remember thinking Pauline would love these. So I went home with a load, opened a bottle of vodka and started watching a true-crime channel, thinking of her doing the same thing! I’ve never been method in acting or writing, but I did get a little obsessed with her. She says very inappropriate things, mainly fuelled by alcohol and regret!
How close is the stage show to the screen version?
It’s very close, having six of the main characters taking part. One of the key things that I was worried about was the design. I needn’t have been, though, because our designer, Mark Walters, has created the most ingenious set. When you watch a touring show, you don’t expect revolves etc, but we have one! One minute you’re in reception, with characters coming on dancing with beach balls and towels, then they disperse and you’re in the hairdressers, Blow’n’Go. It’s seamless and so slick.
How much persuading was needed to get the stars of the TV show to pack their suitcases and head out on the road?
Very little. I drew up a list of people I wanted to have in it, and I vaguely knew what the story was going to be about, but I was ready to adapt it if the actors weren’t available. However, they all accepted. We didn’t just work together in Benidorm, we lived together, so we’re very close. Like any other family, we love and hate each other. It’s very sad to think that at the end of the tour in Canterbury, that will be it.
Is there any possibility of ITV bosses having a rethink and green-lighting a new series of Benidorm?
I don’t know. The thing is, television loves a comeback. Birds Of A Feather came back after 10 years or so - but if I wait that long, some of this lot will be dead! I’d never say never, but I doubt it. It would be lovely to say that the DVD box set is out now, with 10 series displayed in a lovely suitcase. For the stage show, I specifically didn’t want the production to be filmed because part of the enjoyment is that it’s a theatre show, not a television show. You would lose about 50% of the experience of being in the theatre, within touching distance of the cast, and enjoying it in the way it was intended. I think it probably might be the end - but don’t cry that it’s ended, smile because it happened.
Tell us about your cameo appearance in the show?
I play Derek Pickles, also known as Gay Derek, who’s been mentioned in the show throughout the years. Jacqueline always spoke about Big Donna and Gay Derek - characters who you don’t see, like Captain Mainwaring’s wife in Dad’s Army. I like the idea of characters who you form a picture of in your own mind. Big Donna’s ashes were brought to Benidorm for Donald and Jacqueline to scatter, but we’ve never seen Gay Derek, and he has quite an important role throughout the show.
Where’s your favourite holiday destination?
Well obviously Benidorm! I’ve got a house about 15 minutes away and I go there a lot. I bought it about five years into writing the series and I love it. I enjoy being close to the madness but also a short taxi ride away! However, Benidorm is like my second home, so my favourite holiday destination is probably New York. I’ve always felt I could live there, but if I spent as much money as I usually do there on holiday, I’d be bankrupt within a month!
Benidorm Live shows at Alexandra Theatre from 3-29 December.