'If there's any anxiety about the number of funny women, here's the perfect antidote.'

BBC One's new sitcom Me And Mrs Jones

The timing couldn't have been better. With the hoary old debate of whether beautiful women can be funny rearing its head yet again, Sarah Alexander is about to make her return to BBC One, fronting a new mainstream sitcom.

In Me And Mrs Jones, she plays an harassed fortysomething mum who embarks on a love affair with her eldest son's friend, some twenty years her junior.

When the series was announced earlier this year, commissioner Cheryl Taylor vowed: 'If there has been any anxiety recently about the number of funny women working in comedy here we have the perfect antidote.'

The series – which starts on Friday week – has strong female writers behind it, too, having been created by Oriane Messina and Fay Rusling, whose credits include Green Wing and Campus.

Rusling says: 'We came up with the show about four or five years ago. We were thinking about actresses in their forties and that there isn’t anything really strong or powerful to do. We were trying to think, "What would we like to watch as women in our forties?"''

'We would like to watch a woman in her forties being with a man in his twenties, it turns out,' Messina chips in.

Rusling explains: 'We knew that the main character Mrs Jones would be single, at a good point in her life, not really on the look-out, she’s not a cougar, she doesn’t go out looking for men. She’s just coping with life, like women do. She’s doing the school run and she’s trying to earn a living but she’s not out there in high heels going "let me nab a young man".'

Of her own character, Alexander says: 'I think because she has been focusing on looking after other people, she’s probably lost a little bit of confidence, she’s lost her identity a bit, which women and parents do when they’re consumed with bringing up children, and she doesn’t really know what to do with these affections.'

The series also stars Neil Morrissey as Gemma Jones's ex-husband, Jason, described as 'a bit of an idiot'. 'He means well but he doesn’t take full responsibility, he doesn’t quite see it,' Rusling explains.

'The situations we’re dealing with are very real and very "now",' Morrisey says. 'That’s what’s going to make it funny and interesting, and you’ll want to watch more.'

That extends to having a single mum as the lead character, although Messina insists that was not the initial aim.

'I think we looked at our own families and the families of our friends and they’re not really "2.4 children". Fay’s a married parent. I’m a single parent. I’ve got friends who are single parents. I don’t think it was a conscious thing to write a piece about a single mum I think it’s just that it kind of resonated with a lot of our friends.

'We really wanted her character to be in constant motion; picking kids up, very little time to find romance. So we always imagined that the only time she had any stillness was when she was with Billy [her love interest].

'We tried to reflect that in the script. She doesn’t realise to begin with that the first slow conversation she has is with him.

'Our hope was that when people watched it they’d be caught up in the story between Billy and Gemma - the will-they-won’t they story - but also that they’d laugh along the way. And that people would recognise themselves or their relationships within the show.'

Rusling adds: 'I guess we just wanted it to feel like when you’re younger and you fall in love for the first time. Why shouldn’t you have that feeling in your forties? You want to feel excited about meeting someone.

'We don’t want it to be a comedy drama, we don’t want it to be a slapstick farcical sitcom. We wanted it to be a romantic comedy where you have that heart in the middle, and you have all the crazy characters around the two lovers.'

These include Tom, the much-fancied, but slightly irritating, single father at the school gates who would prove a stable match for Mrs Jones; her wild, man-eating best friend Fran, and terrifying Swedish ice-queen Inca, Jason's new partner.

The pair wrote the show by sketching out the plot for each series and each episode, which they then broke down into scenes. Rusling wrote the even-numbered ones, Messina the odds.

'Then we put them together,' Messina says. 'We iChat and act out all the parts online to each other. When that crashes we have to do it over the phone so it’s like an awkward lovers’ conversation…

'When we do the love scenes together online it’s a bit embarrassing but that’s the only way – when you hear it out loud.'

She added that it was easier to write the show once they had filmed a pilot, and knew who was playing the part.

'That’s very similar to Green Wing,' Rusling says. 'Once you know who your cast are you can just go to town. You can see Neil Morrissey or you can see Stephen Mangan and you can think ‘we can be really mean about them!’

'We spent a lot of time going "what can we do to Neil Morrissey this week?" Messina adds.

And she's proud that the series is finally making it to air. 'It’s taken a long time to get here but at the same time all the hurdles we’ve jumped have been positive experiences. It’s great to have a show that’s about to go out on BBC One – it’s very exciting.

'Our mums are very excited!,' Messina counters.

Published: 1 Oct 2012

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