'Behind every hospital drama is strange, twisted comedy' | Dan Sefton on his new sitcom, Porters

'Behind every hospital drama is strange, twisted comedy'

Dan Sefton on his new sitcom, Porters

Doctor and writer Dan Sefton has created a new sitcom based in the world of hospital porters for the Dave channel. Ahead of the launch of Porters later this month, Sefton here talks about reveals how the show came about, the joy of working with Rutger Hauer and filming in a disused hospital wing.

What is Porters about? 

It’s a sitcom set in a workplace - specifically a weird, below stairs workplace that you rarely see. Behind every hospital drama is strange, twisted comedy. This is it. 

You still work in an A&E and were a hospital porter as a teenager, did any of your experiences make it into the show? 

Yes, loads. I remember as a junior doctor going to collect money from the old mortuary at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London.  If you signed a cremation form when a patient died, you got money, so the more of your patients died, the more you made. The doctors who worked in geriatrics did really well. You would go and collect it from the mortuary on a Friday afternoon. 

The old mortuary was really creepy, a lot of old specimen pots hanging around, but the people who worked there were very friendly. They’d give you your ‘ash cash’ in a brown envelope and then you would go to the bar and get pissed. So the idea of friendly mortuary people was always in there. 

Were you involved in casting  Rutger Hauer?

He was a real wildcard. We were just stunned he was interested. After he came over we talked a little and shaped the character to work for him. He’s just got a presence that lifted everything - a real movie star! 

Was there any real life inspiration for his character Tillman? Or Mr Pradeep, the transplant surgeon played by Sanjeev Bhaskar? 

Tillman was based on a very enthusiastic German man I met once. He was just delighted with life and everything that happened and didn’t seem to have a cynical bone in his body. It always stuck with me. 

Mr Pradeep is (very) loosely based on a friend of mine called Mr Pradeep. I have to stress in real life he does know his left from his right and is an excellent surgeon. However his karaoke singing is average. It was Sanjeev who brought the air of insane menace to the character which I loved! 

The joy of working with brilliant comic actors is that they lift everything you write. 

What’s it like working with Rutger Hauer? 

Surreal. Blade Runner and The Hitcher are such iconic movies for someone like me. What’s inspirational is that he clearly just does what the fuck he wants to, when he wants to. So this year he fancied doing a weird little UK sitcom because he thought it was funny. So he did. Perhaps we should all live our lives like Rutger? 

And Kelsey Grammer, who plays a consultant neurologist in the first episode?

If Rutger is a movie legend, then Kelsey is the king of all sitcoms. My main inspiration for writing TV was reading Conversations With My Agent by Rob Long - one of the Cheers writers. So in a way it seemed like my career had come full circle. 

It was incredibly generous of him to give his time to our show and all the crew and actors were hugely excited to meet him. Frasier is still the stick to measure comedy by in my opinion. Smart, funny, but still a ‘conventional’ sitcom. 

If you have good writing and acting, it still works. 

In the show there is a divide between the doctors upstairs and the porters downstairs – is this true in real life? 

Sort of. As ever, nice people are nice to everyone, no matter what their status. But there is still a sense of a subterranean world in many hospitals. 

The NHS is the biggest employer in the UK, but only a few of those people are doctors and nurses. But Porters is a surreal comedy so no one should have nightmares

Did you have a lot of fun on set?

 Personally, no. I can’t speak for the others. The producer, Simon Lupton, was instructed to keep fun to a minimum and he’s very competent. Hopefully, no enjoyment or humour leaked over into the finished product. 

Did you have any spooky experiences working in a disused hospital wing? 

Yes. One night I was working late on rewriting the script and was the last one left on the set. It was suddenly ice cold in the room, then I heard a noise and turned to see a little girl in Victorian clothing staring at me from a doorway. 

I asked her if she was lost, but she just looked at me, walked over to a casting picture of Ed Easton, pointed at him and then slowly and sadly shook her head, before vanishing into thin air. To this day I have no idea what it meant.

• Porters, starts its three-part series at 10pm on Wednesday September 20 on Dave. Read a slightly bizarre interview with star Rutger Hauer here.

Published: 4 Sep 2017

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