Billy the kidder

Pub bore lands BBC3 sitcom

Billy Bleach, the pub bore Simon Day created for The Fast Show, is to star in a new sitcom for BBC3.

Grass, billed as a comedy-drama, finds Billy Bleach witnessing a gangland murder, and forced to become part of the witness protection programme. Thus he abandons the streets of London for a more gentrified existence in the quiet Norfolk village of Little Mockwell.

Day says: "I've always been fascinated by the whole witness protection programme. It's such a strange thing ­ the whole idea of how they are bargaining to get as much as they can from the state.

"It's sort of collapsing now because people are realising that a lot of them are just liars, and I just thought it would be a good idea, having this guy who just can't stop talking, having to be shut up in the woods with two policemen."

"I wanted it to be like real life. I think comedy should be a reflection of truth. All the best comedies and all the best sitcoms are those in which you believe in the people ­ Only Fools And Horses, Porridge, Dad's Army and The Likely Lads. They are quite sad in a way. They're cosy but they're also a bit trapped, like Steptoe And Son."

Simon's real life started in 1962 when he was born into a middle-class family in Blackheath, south east London. He admits he was a bit of a class clown and used to do Monty Python sketches to his schoolfrends.

A string of odd jobs followed, including working at record shops ankn Britain's first McDonald's, until his big break came at the age of 28, when Simon won a talent competition hosted by Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, with whom he went on tour.

Simon says: "It all happened very quickly, I was quite lucky. I missed out on the whole of the circuit, the years of trawling around, although I did it afterwards.

"I just thought, quite cynically, I suppose, that character comedy is the way forward into TV because then you already have a life."

"I used to do Billy Bleach in a live show and just talk about his mum and his cousins and what he thinks about drugs, etc, so it was no big deal to develop him. And I always thought he was a good sitcom character ­ he was a combination of quite a few people. I always like to think of him as being a bit Del Boy and a bit Ronnie Barker in Porridge.

"He's a bit slippery, but he's nice; he's just a bit of a failure, really, which is what all good sitcom characters are."

Simon claims not to have had problems adapting sketches and stand-up routines into a full-blown series, although working with former EastEnders writer Andrew Collins helped.

"I had this character residing inside my head for years but I don't have the discipline to write on my own. Andrew was really good with the ideas for the plot. We just really hit it off. It was a really smooth process; I never thought it could be so easy."

Having said that, Grass was many years in the making. First he carried the idea around in his head, then it went to the BBC, then over to Tiger Aspect and then back to the BBC.

"What's great about the BBC is that they don't interfere. The executive producer [Jon Plowman] came down twice on the shoot and now, in the edit, has a few ideas. On a lot of other channels, it's not like that."

* Grass starts on BBC3 on September 8.

First published: August 27, 2003

Published: 22 Mar 2009

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