Prepare for take-off

Matt Lucas and David Walliams on Come Fly With Me

Their catchphrases have become so ubiquitous that only this week right-wing columnist Richard Littlejohn used them to mock wheelchair-bound student campaigner Jody Mcintyre.

But as David Walliams and Matt Lucas prepare to return to BBC One with their new airport-based comedy Come Fly With Me, they are keen downplay the role such oft-repeated sayings have in their work.

Speaking during filming at one of the airports used as a backdrop for the mockumentary series, Walliams insisted: ‘To call them catchphrases now is a mistake because they're not. They're just things that certain characters say, like you do in real life.

‘If the public like something and latch on to it then they make them into catchphrases. And it's the public that makes something a success.’

And success Little Britain most certainly was. But despite the inevitable focus that will be on Come Fly With Me when it launches on Christmas Day, Lucas says they didn’t feel too much pressure to match up to their previous hit.

‘When we were writing Little Britain, the first series was so successful, and with the second I was really aware that we were writing a show that had taken some sort of strange cultural significance,’ he said. ‘With Come Fly With Me, we can't – and we shouldn't – aim to make something as big as Little Britain. Something like that probably only happens once in your career if you're extremely lucky.

‘So in a way I was always aware that a lot of people were anticipating it with Little Britain whereas this feels like something else.’

Walliams adds: ‘Yeah it's new – the only baggage we're carrying is having had a big previous success but then again we're starting over with something new.’

Their fame meant they certainly attracted attention as they filmed, very publicly in airports including Stansted and Robin Hood this autumn. ‘I think you surrender your privacy,’ says Lucas.

‘Sometimes members of the public gather behind the camera and like to watch. But what you gain [from filming in a real airport] is hopefully a show that looks like no other comedy show; that has a kind of authenticity and a scale about it that you could not easily create in a studio, unless you had tens of millions of pounds to build one.’

Walliams adds: ‘The interesting thing is we get recognised by some British people who might have seen Little Britain but, obviously, as we're in an airport, a huge percentage of people are from other countries who probably don't recognise us and are just utterly mystified as to why there are two men dressed as women having a pee next to them in the toilet!

‘Nearly everyone knows what an airport looks like and sounds like, so you couldn't fake it. If we had faked it, it would look pretty puny I think.

"It's exciting, the scale of it. I think if it was hokey in some way, from the moment it started, people would go, “That's not a real plane, that's not a real airport,” and the whole thing would kind of fall apart, especially as we're quite larger-than-life characters, so we need it to be real-life to bounce off.

‘It is hard though; there are a lot of distractions. We're used to being on a set and people saying, “Quiet please, action”. But here, any moment, a tannoy can go off, a vehicle can go past beeping or someone can start shouting or running through the airport, so you've got to try to concentrate with that going on around you.’

The inspiration behind Come Fly With Me, based around budget airline FlyLo, is obvious – as Walliams says. ‘There have been two major series that are real documentaries on the airline business, Airport and Airline, but we were looking to do another multi-character show and we thought that would play to our strengths.

‘We didn't want to do a sketch show as we'd done that with Little Britain, and the more we thought about it the more possibilities there were. You can have everybody, from someone who runs an airline to someone who cleans the toilets. And many people have had bad experiences of airports and airlines, so we felt it was right for comedy.’

Lucas adds: "’You can play regular characters but you can also have one-offs – passengers at the airport; people you just see once. And also, unlike Little Britain, it doesn't have a laughter track because it's all filmed entirely on location and the characters are aware of the presence of the camera because it's a mock documentary, so this gives us the chance to have a slightly different relationship with the camera.’

Another big difference from Little Britain is that the characters interact with each other as they all work at the same place. ‘It's something that we weren't able to do in Little Britain,’ says Lucas. ‘We never had a sketch where Vicky suddenly met Emily but, in this series, after three or four episodes, we start mixing and matching a little bit.’

Walliams adds: ‘The level of reality with the characters is more equal than in Little Britain, so it felt right and it was exciting. For example we've got an ignorant immigration officer, Ian, and we thought it would be great if he meets Taaj from FlyLo.’

What viewers won't see, though, is any camera trickery, as when the characters meet it'll be one of David's playing opposite one of Matt's. ‘It's possible but I think if you just did it once or twice you'd be so aware of the camera trickery,’ says Matt, who appeared opposite himself in the Alice In Wonderland, movie as Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

‘I'm always very aware of the trickery when I see it. When you watch Eddie Murphy play all the Klumps around the table you marvel at it but, in a way, I think it can detract; it's not that it isn't great. Also we probably just wouldn't have the time to do that and you need to be filming in a much more controllable environment to do that technical stuff.’

One multi-character that did inspire them was Australia’s Summer Heights High. ‘That was fantastic,’ says Walliams. ‘Chris Lilley plays three different characters – a schoolgirl, a schoolboy and a teacher. And although you know it's the same guy, you still believe it, so we kind of kept that in our heads. Generally with mock-documentaries people have wanted it to be as close to life as possible, but as soon as I'm playing the 60-year-old owner of the airline it becomes a very different reality.’

As well as the same costume and make-up people, David and Matt also have Geoff Posner, their executive producer from Little Britain on board, too. "’It's exciting that we're working with new people as well, though," adds David. "We've got [producer] Adam Tandy at the right time, just as he's won every award in the industry, for The Thick Of It, and [director] Paul King, who directed The Mighty Boosh. They're both brilliant.’

Here the pair describe some of the characters in the show:

Meet the characters

Keeley (Matt) and Melody (David): Check-in girls for FlyLo. Walliams said: ‘The character I play has aspirations to be a model, and she slightly looks down on Keeley because she thinks she's slightly less attractive than Melody and is quite mean to her.’ Lucas adds: ‘ It becomes apparent that their manager is leaving and she will be replaced by one of the two of them, so they become more and more competitive with each other as only one of them can get the job.’

Moses (David): The executive passenger liaison officer for Great British Air. ‘He's a bit of a busybody, and if there's anyone well known he'll make it his duty to greet them and take them through to the gate whether they want him to or not,’ said Walliams. ‘Moses thinks the whole documentary is about him but it's about life in an airport.’ Lucas adds: ‘We watched a lot of Airline and Airport and there were different people that slightly were the springboard. They were very nice whereas Moses is quite devious and vain. What they did have though is a great relationship with the camera and subsequently the viewers.’

Mickey (Matt) and Buster (David): Press photographers. Walliams: ‘In airports you often get paparazzi photographers hanging around to get pictures of someone like Victoria Beckham getting off a plane, so we play those two and they're slightly sleazy.’ Lucas adds: ‘They're kind of cheeky characters; they're quite opinionated; and they're not very reverential of the celebrities they come into contact with. It's rare that the pair of us play straight white males!’

Ian (David): Chief immigration officer. Walliams: ‘He's the chief immigration officer and basically he's got an agenda, he doesn't want to let anyone into the country, even Scottish people trying to get through. You get a sense that he's quite a lonely figure. Lucas: ‘He's a pedant – he'll eat a sandwich with a knife and fork.’

Judith (David) and Peter (Matt): A complaining holiday-maker and her husband. Lucas: ‘They had a bad holiday where they booked to stay in a hotel and they arrived and it hadn't been built. After they complained they were given a special offer on another holiday and then that was a disaster, so then they went on a cruise. Every time they get given another holiday, that's always a disaster.’ Walliams: ‘With passengers it's hard to think that you can see them more than once but we created a running joke with them. We tried to just create situations where really incredible, awful things happen to them,.’

Jackie (David) and Simon (Matt): Lucas: ‘Jackie and Simon are husband-and-wife pilots. Simon was a pilot who had been married to Jackie for a number of years and had a one-night stand with a stewardess. Jackie was looking through Simon's phone and found out, so she gave up her job as a dental hygienist and retrained to become a pilot so that she could accompany him on all flights. She remains very suspicious of his behaviour and continually berates him for his adultery.’

Penny (David): Head stewardess. Walliams: ‘Penny works for Great British Air and is a terrible snob and doesn't really want anyone in her cabin. So anyone she suspects is slightly lower class she wants to expel.’

Precious (Matt): Lucas: ‘Precious Little is a lady who works at the coffee kiosk. A jolly West Indian lady, middle-aged, who enjoys gospel music and she's a Christian and is seemingly never able to open her kiosk, she's always missing a vital ingredient – the coffee's gone missing, or the water isn't working, or the cups have gone missing. That was a big make-up job, a big broad performance. It was fun to do.’

Tommy (Matt): Lucas: ‘Tommy is a young Scottish guy who dreams of being a pilot one day but he doesn't really have any qualifications , so he's decided to get a job at the airport and work his way up. He works at a burger bar.’

Taaj (Matt): Taaj works in the airport as one of FlyLo's roving ground staff. However, his ambitions lie elsewhere.

Fearghal (Matt): Air steward for low-cost Irish airline, Our Lady Air.

Omar (David): Owner of the nation's ‘eighth favourite low-cost airline’ FlyLo, whose unscrupulous habit of cutting corners means he is under constant criticism.

Asuka (Matt) and Nanako (David): Japanese schoolgirls, and avid fan of Martin Clunes, who go to the airport in the hope of glimpsing him (Episode 1 only)

John (Matt) and Terry (David): Dishonest baggage handlers

Published: 15 Dec 2010

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