'When you’re delving into big issues, it’s much more powerful to do so through comedy' | Daniel Lawrence Taylor on his new BBC show, Boarders © BBC

'When you’re delving into big issues, it’s much more powerful to do so through comedy'

Daniel Lawrence Taylor on his new BBC show, Boarders

BBC Three’s new comedy-drama Boarders follows the lives of five talented black inner-city teenagers navigating their way through the British public school system, steeped in the complexities of race, class, money and power. Here Daniel Lawrence Taylor – creator, writer and executive producer of the show, and who also acts in it – tells us how the show came about, his inspirations and what advice he’d give to other aspiring writers.

What inspired you to write the series?

Boarders is a fictional series that was initially inspired by an article about a scholarship scheme for underprivileged young black boys. 

There were quite a lot of parallels to my own experience at university which was predominately white and middle class. It was an interesting experience for me and the handful of black students that went there and we all navigated our way in that world differently. That felt like a really cool thing to explore through a comedy-drama.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t also inspired by other TV shows and films, like Sex Education. One thing I love about that show is that it deals with sex, sexuality, relationships and all these big themes in a really cool and funny way. I wanted to do a similar thing with Boarders where I could look at class, race and privilege but do it in a fun and comedic way. 

I think shows like that definitely inspired me. I’ve also always loved films like Mean Girls or Superbad – all these coming of age comedies which are steeped in a lot of drama with things that we can all relate to. 

For example, they’ve got the school ‘groups’ – the geeks, the cool kids and the mean girls, to name a few. I drew from all of those experiences and I think that’s what people will tap into when they watch the show because they’re going to see familiar faces and dynamics that we’ve all seen at school or will recognise for those viewers still at school.

How did you balance the comedy and drama in the series?

I always write through a comedy lens because it’s the medium I enjoy writing the most, but also when you’re delving into big issues I think it’s much more powerful to do so through comedy – nobody ever wants to be preached to. 

I think comedy is a good way to show a world and see the comedy in it, poke fun and find the satire in it as well. It makes for a much more fun watch when you do it through the lens of comedy.

I think Boarders does lean a lot into the comedy but there is a lot of drama as well. I think especially when you look at the lead characters, such as Jahiem and the journey he goes through – that definitely takes us into the drama and him trying to survive in this world. 

But then you have Toby, who definitely leans more into the comedy where we see him trying to exploit this world and take what he can from it. Each character dips into bits of drama and comedy, so it’s quite balanced throughout and varies in each episode.

Boarders cast

How involved were you with the casting of the leading five?, Josh Tedeku (Jaheim), Jodie Campbell (Leah), Myles Kamwendo (Omar), Sekou Diaby (Toby) and Aruna Jalloh (Femi)?

I was across it all. There was a lot of discussion between me, the directors, the producers and the BBC about the cast. When I wrote the show, I wrote five very distinct lead characters so when it came to casting I wanted to make sure that everybody matched those characters. 

I really wanted them to not only to be different but to look and sound different as well. Those were all big discussions we had throughout the casting process.

First and foremost, the cast are all very funny, talented and all could carry the drama – these were traits we all looked for during the auditions. When we had our shortlist, we then did chemistry reads because even though our leads all have their individual stories, the group dynamic was really important so we wanted to make sure they sat together really well. 

Rosalie, our casting director, got them to read scenes but she also left the camera running in between takes to see how they interacted with each other – it was the best exercise because when they came to set you could tell they were all really comfortable with each other. 

I think part of the beauty of the show is the five leads together and their bond. Casting was so important and it was a long process but there’s not a single weak link. They’re all stars and I think that’s what makes the show.

You also star in the show! What was it like playing Gus, the mentor to the five leads?

Funnily enough [director] Ethosheia [Hylton] once joked that I was in ‘Gus mode’ when I was giving Sekou a little bit of advice, what with him making his on-screen debut. 

We cast pretty much all of our actors through agents, but Sekou was a rare find who applied to audition through social media. Because he’s so talented but new to the industry, I was grilling him, making sure he’d done his headshots and got himself up on Spotlight so that he hits the ground running, which I suppose is a very Gus thing to do.

It was really fun to play Gus. Originally, my intention wasn’t actually to be in the show, but being a writer-performer who always finds some way of cramming himself into his own work, people assumed that I’d play him. And the more we developed the character in the writers room, the more appealing it became to take on the role, so I decided to get involved and I’m so glad I did. 

On set, there was a joy seeing people perform and be in the moment. I really enjoyed seeing a young cast all in one place and it was shot during the summer so it felt like a fun summer holiday for them - you could see them coming up with games to play on set or making up dances. It was really lovely to see them enjoy it and for it not to feel like a job.

What do you want the audience to take from the show?

First and foremost, I just want people to have fun. I want them to come away loving the characters and wanting to be with them and warm to them. 

The five leads you see in Boarders aren’t often what we see on TV, or if you do see them they’re never in these kinds of situations and going through the things they have to battle with. 

I take quite big swings at ‘issues’ but again it is first and foremost a piece of entertainment and it’s fun. It’s a comedy and a drama so I would want people to watch it, enjoy it and talk about it. If they learn something from it, that’s amazing. 

The show portrays a very specific experience that a lot of people might not be familiar with or might not have experienced, and it shows how our five leads overcome some of the challenges they’re faced with. 

It would be lovely to think, the more we talk about diversity and inclusion, that we have a show like this to help understand the different perspectives we show in the series.

What advice would you give to any aspiring writers?

I would say: write what you know. That’s not to say if you’re a young black kid that you just have to write about young black experiences. It could be your world, your relationships, things that interest you. 

I’m a believer that if you want to hone your craft, you’ve got to put in your 10,000 hours of hard graft– just put in the work and even if it’s terrible just keep putting pen to paper. You learn from your mistakes and I think that’s what makes you a better writer.

• Boarders will be available in full on BBC iPlayer from 6am on Tuesday February 20,  with episodes airing weekly on BBC Three from 9pm that evening.

Published: 13 Feb 2024

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.