It's good to hear working-class voices... not some actor from Oxford putting on an accent | Interviews with the cast and creators of Channel 4's new crime caper The Curse © Channel 4

It's good to hear working-class voices... not some actor from Oxford putting on an accent

Interviews with the cast and creators of Channel 4's new crime caper The Curse

This weekend sees the launch of The Curse, the new  Channel 4  crime-comedy from Tom Davis and director James De Frond (the people behind Murder in Successville, King Gary) and People Just Do Nothing’s Steve Stamp, Allan Mustafa and Hugo Chegwin.

Inspired by the Brinks-Mat robbery, in which £26 million worth of gold bullion and diamonds was stolen from a warehouse near Heathrow Airport, the caper follows a gang of hopeless small time crooks who through their own stupidity and poor judgement find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest gold heists in history.  

Here the cast and creators talk about how The Curse came about…

Allan 'Seapa' Mustafa

Co-writer, who plays Albert Fantoni

Allan Seapa Mustafa in The Curse

Can you start by telling us the set-up for The Curse?

It’s about four normal idiots from the East End who are hard pushed for money. It’s the 1980s, it’s Thatcher’s Britain, people around them are buying stuff they don’t need but they’re struggling. So when they get a tip-off about a robbery, they get involved. But it’s not what they thought and now they’ve got to deal with the consequences. 

It’s loosely based on true stories, right?

Yeah, Tom [Davis] and James [De Frond] came to us with this idea. Funnily enough, me and Hugo [Chegwin] were already talking about doing a different East End geezer robbery story, so it struck a chord straight away. It’s a fish-out-of-water tale about blokes getting way out of their depth. To me, that’s intrinsically funny. 

Is it still too rare to see working class characters on TV?

It’s weird. In my world - whether it’s People Just Do Nothing or the music industry - there’s a lot of working-class people. So sometimes I forget that’s not the norm on TV until I stop and look again. Working-class voices are still quite sparse, so it’s good that we’re getting the chance - and that we’re actually from that world. Lots of shows get made but it’s some actor from Oxford putting on an accent. 

Tell us a bit about your character, Albert?

He’s the ultimate example of someone who suddenly finds himself in too deep.  He’s a really sweet guy who just wants everything to be fair and safe. He’s a family man who adores his wife. She calls him ‘soppy bollocks’ and he’s fine with that because he hasn’t got an ego. He’s the polar opposite of MC Grindah, in fact, because Grindah’s all ego - pretending he’s hard when really he’s dying and crying inside. Whereas Albert’s got a certain quiet confidence. He’s happy to be coasting along until he gets roped into this caper. 

Did you base him on anyone?

With every character you play, you draw on parts of yourself. It’s easy to imagine how you’d react in a world of psychopathic gangsters. We all feel fear sometimes. Albert’s also a pernickety control freak and there’s elements of that in me as well. 

You’re too young really but what do you remember about the 80s?

I was born in ’85. My 80s reference points are films like Ghostbusters and The Karate Kid. Fashion-wise, my older sister dressed pretty much like ‘Tash [Albert’s wife in The Curse]. It was fascinating to immerse ourselves in a different time.

Making People Just Do Nothing, the garage scene was really important to us. Here we had another period to obsess over. It’s Tom’s and James’ era, so they kept us in check, even with slang. A rudeboy geezer in the Noughties talks very differently to how he would in the early 80s. Americanisms and Jamaican influences weren’t as strong back then.

Was it fun to swap MC Grindah’s outfits for 80s fashion?

It felt like fancy dress. I actually felt like an actor. Hey, maybe I am an actor rather than winging it! I assumed the 80s would be all big hair and power-suits. But working-class people didn’t suddenly start dressing differently the minute it hit the 80s. They’re still dressing like the late 70s in many ways. Albert’s got no money, so he’s still in his clothes from a few years ago. 

Are you a fan of heist films?

We all grew up on those films. Things like Ocean’s 11 were always an enjoyable watch. The Curse is similarly fun but grounded in the reality of the 80s East End. It’s so different to anything we’ve done. It’s a thriller packaged as a comedy. It looks cool and cinematic too. Comedies don’t always have to look like cheap sitcoms.

What were your influences in the writer’s room?

We were looking at comedies like Eastbound & Down and Peep Show. But we also referenced things like Fargo and The Sopranos. Not to say we’re in that league but if The Curse is 1 per cent as good, that’d be sweet. 

Tom Davis

Co-writer and plays Big Mick Neville

Tom_Davies In The Curse

What was your inspiration for creating The Curse? 

James and I had spoken for a long time about doing something in the gangster crime genre. At one point, we discussed doing something set around Hatton Garden, but suddenly everyone was doing that. Meanwhile, I got to know Allan Mustafa and it felt like we could do something with this. When I first saw People Just Do Nothing, I went ‘Wow. I’d have loved to have been involved in that.’ So to spend the last four years working together on this idea was a treat.   

The story’s so rich. I’ve always been obsessed with that world. The first character James and I ever did together was an old Krays-type fella; telling stories as he walked around London. As the series goes on, you realise what a big part of that society criminals were. 

Is the story still relevant today?

The 80s killed off the working classes in many ways, so these characters are like dinosaurs in a world that’s been hit by a meteorite of commercialism. It’s nearly 40 years ago, but seems more relevant now than ever before. As a country, we haven’t learnt or moved on. It was eye-opening researching that era. It really resonated with me.

Tell us a bit about your character, Mick?

King Gary is the first time I’ve played someone similar to myself, so as a character comedian, I relished getting to play Mick. I wanted to push him as far as I could. It was important that the big man within the group shouldn’t just be a bully; there needed to be more to him than that. Mick’s almost like a big sister who looks out for everyone.. There’s a moral compass there but he’s quite a lonely guy in some ways. He’s also slightly older than the rest of the group, which is something Seapa reminded me of all the time. 

Yes, the others said you were the only one old enough to remember the 80s.

What I love is that there’s three years between most of us. It’s clearly a big fucking three years. I’m only 42, so I was a kid during the 80s, but from the recollections I have up to age 10, this is pretty bang-on. 

How did you come up with Mick’s extraordinary voice?

I spent a lot of time working on a voice that was completely different to anything I’d done before. It’s based on people I grew up with. These storytellers who spoke in the Queen’s English and tried to sound more intelligent than they were. I also knew a lot of travellers when I was younger, so there’s a tinge of that accent too.

Tell us about his clothes too?

He only has one costume. We decided early on that it’s hard enough nowadays as a bigger guy to find clothing, so in 1982, it’d be nigh-on impossible. Once you had a pair of trousers, they were your trousers. The other characters all have a few changes of costume but Mick pretty much has this one tracksuit top, which you find out a bit more about mid-series. There are hidden layers to Mick. A few subtle things to look out for. I can’t say much more because of the people he’s based on but keep an eye on him.

Michael Smiley appears in the series…

I’m very emotionally linked to Michael. I’ve known him a long time. I gigged with him 13 years ago and died on stage. It was truly terrible and I came close to quitting comedy. Michael was on the same bill and he called me the next morning, took me out to lunch and spent the day giving me notes, talking me through how to become a better stand-up.  He got me a gig that night at the Comedy Store, the first time I’d ever played there. I used the tricks I’d learnt from Michael and absolutely smashed it. He set me on the right path. So it was a humbling moment when he came on set. A little way of repaying the debt. 

What were your touchstones when it came to writing The Curse?

Early on, we decided we didn’t want to spend five episodes of six discussing doing the robbery. We wanted to get it out of the way early. The robbery is almost the easy bit, especially back then. The hard part comes afterwards.

I’m old enough to remember my dad losing his job and my mum - who was a nurse for years - worrying about money. I know how hard this world can be. Given those circumstances, would you do something if it seemed like easy money and you thought you could get away with it?

None of these guys are proper criminals. They’re on the fringes of crime, only because they have to be. So we read up on true crimes: British, American, Spanish ones. Look at Money Heist on Netflix - it’s incredible but the smallest element is the robbery. Touch wood, we get a chance to come back to The Curse to find out where these guys end up, what it does to their friendships and families. 

After three years of making King Gary with those mainstream sensibilities, this feels like something completely different. It’s been four years in the making, from initial chats to where we are now. Obviously two of those years were due to pandemic but I’m very proud. I watched it back and genuinely thought: ‘You’ve done all right there, son.’

What do you hope the reaction will be?

I hope people understand what we’re trying to do. I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about working-class people being forced into a box. Every time we try to escape by doing something higher concept, we get told it’s not for us. So I hope people enjoy it. I think they will.

Emer Kenny

Plays Natasha Fantoni

Emer Kenny in The Curse

The show’s got a lot of 1980s sexism running through it. That’s why Tash is not involved in the heist, because it’s not a thing that women did at that time. She has to get the men to do it for her. Even though they all know she’s the smartest and toughest, Tash still has to deal with their surface-level sexism. She’ll often say something and Phil will repeat it as if it’s his idea. Mick’s always going ‘Yeah alright sweetheart’ when Tash speaks. It’s an exaggerated form of what I think a lot of women will still recognise. I relate to the mansplaining and having to shout over blokes!

I’d never met the People Just Do Nothing boys but I really admired their work and found them so funny. But they’ve obviously known each other for years, so coming into work with them as the only outsider, I was nervous. At the audition, the casting director said: ‘Look, just to warn you - there’s a lot of blokes in there, sitting around a boardroom table, they’re all laughing and very loud, don’t be intimidated.’  She was lovely and looking out for me… because she was totally right. But hey made me so welcome. They were all very aware of the fact that joining their gang could feel intimidating, so went out of their way to make me feel like part of the crew. That includes ripping the piss out of me, because that’s how they treat people they love. So that was an honour. 

I was born in ’89 so I was much more of a 90s kid. But the boys put all these 80s playlists together and the music was amazing. There are lots of funny details - like there’s a scene in our flat where the kids are watching the original Worzel Gummidge on TV. I’d never seen it before and was like ‘What kind of nightmare did these kids grow up watching?’ When they said it’s an 80s heist comedy, I thought it was going to be massive hair, loads of gold, glamour and sequins. I was totally up for that. But then I got to the costume fitting and they said: ‘That’s been done a lot on TV, so we’d like to do earlier 80s.’ Because the characters don’t have any money, they’re still wearing their stuff from the 70s. We looked at old episodes of Only Fools & Horses and a lot of the women were wearing baggy shapes, fussy blouses, a lot of beige and brown. I was like: ‘This isn’t the sparkly dream I was hoping for.’

Hugo Chegwin

Co-writer and plays Phil 'The Captain' Pocket

Hugo Chegwin in The Curse

During my early teens, early Guy Ritchie films like Lock Stock and Snatch, and Nick Love films like The Football Factory or The Business, were really popular. They shaped not only British cinema but culture and music as well. But it got a bit out of hand and there were so many of them, they lost a bit of their credibility.

But when they’re done well, which I hope The Curse is, they’re great. It’s been a while since we’ve had a really good home-grown gangster film or TV series. Maybe there’s a space for that in people’s viewing habits again. 

How did you find the move from People Just Do Nothing to The Curse?

The whole thing was quite daunting, actually. We make People Just Do Nothing mockumentary-style with just two cameras. This was set-ups and not performing to camera. It was a massive learning curve but I really enjoyed the experience.

I wouldn’t say it’s the polar opposite because it’s still about a bunch of idiots but it was nice to do something different. Watching Tom in the early scenes, he was so comfortable and confident and understood how it all worked. I was like. ‘Fuck, he’s really, really good. I winged it a bit but I think I got away with it.

What do you hope the reaction to The Curse will be?

It’s very different to People Just Do Nothing. But to use a music analogy, you can’t keep making the same album over and over. You’ve got to flip it on its head a little bit. I feel like we’ve attempted to do that. But in a good way. We’re not making a psychedelic double album… Yet!

Steve Stamp

Co-writer and plays Sidney Wilson

Steve_stamp In The Curse

I was born in ’84 so I was around for a bit of it. The 80s has always been massive for me. All my favourite films growing up were from the 80s - E.T, The Goonies, Ghostbusters, Gremlins. Even now, a lot of my favourite music is 80s. I’m a massive Prince fan. I love the funk stuff like George Clinton and Morris Day & The Time. And there’s so many great 80s pop tunes, you’re spoilt for choice. Me and James put together playlists with hundreds of songs. So it’s always been an era that I had a connection with and I enjoy the visual elements of the 80s. 

We spent a lot of time making sure The Curse felt grounded in reality and specific to East London at that time. There are so many details in there that the average viewer won’t even notice. Like, the proper gangsters always wear bits of red and as our guys become more entrenched in that world, they start to increasingly wear bits of red too. Even in the edit, we were picking out music and digging into that 80s London scene. We tried to think outside the box, not do the obvious hits but more what you’d hear on a jukebox back then. We got pretty deep into it all. We’re all quite geeky like that. 

What do you hope the reaction will be?

It’s a bit of a departure for us but I think we’ve pulled it off. We’re aware that because the three of us - Hugo, Seapa and me - are involved, it will inevitably draw comparisons to People Just Do Nothing.

But it feels such a different show. I hope people can see the range we have in terms of our acting now. We’re capable of creating different characters and stories. Hopefully people will be pleasantly surprised and want to see what’s next. For me, The Curse has potential for more series and be something that we’re all quite invested in. It’s exciting. 

James De Frond

Co-writer and director


How would you describe The Curse?

It’s not a sitcom. We wanted to put a gang of wallies into a crime caper and that’s where it feels like we’ve found an original tone. Everything around them - the high stakes, the jeopardy, the police, the real gangsters - feels serious. We wanted to put proper dramatic actors in there, so you enjoy seeing the amateurs squirm. It’s a comedy but it’s a black comedy. The curse really takes hold, it hooks you in and I think the cliff hangers are satisfying. As well as being a funny watch, the story’s an enticing one. The boys, Emer and all the cast are fantastic, so it’s been a joy. 

What appealed to you about the story?

I read about Hatton Garden, thinking: ‘Everyone’s going to do this as a TV or film idea’. I became slightly obsessed with those old boys who did it in their pensioner years. But when you read more about them, you realise they’ve been pulling off robberies their whole lives. Throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, they’d go into prison for a bit, come out, do another robbery. Sometimes they’d get caught, sometimes they didn’t.

I remember reading about Brink’s-Mat robbery too. What I found fascinating was that a lot of the reports and books say it wasn’t planned. They didn’t know the gold was there and stumbled upon it by accident. I just thought that was a funny thing. And out of the six robbers, the two who went down for life were well-known criminals but the other four sounded like normal blokes.

They disappeared with the money, the gold and the legend. There’s comedy there as well. It goes back to the Ealing comedies - the combination of gold and idiots caught up in something bigger than them is classic stuff. As soon as we got Tom together with the boys, I think we got the best clowns in the business to play hapless criminals. 

Is it still too rare to see working class characters on TV?

Yeah. I know social mobility is important to Channel 4 and they wanted to do a working-class story. Obviously we do that in a different way with King Gary, which is a broad sitcom, but with this we could recreate a time and an era.

What’s fascinating about the early 80s is how poor people were. Around the East End, the docks had closed and unemployment was rife. At the same time, materialistic values were being pushed. These people couldn’t afford the stuff they were being peddled, so they were going out and taking it. Bank robbers back then were like modern-day Robin Hoods. There was a certain fairy tale charm to it all. You don’t get robberies like that now. Depots had one CCTV camera. Post Office vans didn’t have any security. That time’s very much gone. 

What was the thinking behind your use of split-screen?

It works well but it mainly came from budget! You can concentrate on close-up detail for storytelling without having to create the whole period in the background. Sometimes the best ideas are born out of budgetary reasons. The whole reason Murder In Successville was so dark and nocturnal was that we couldn’t afford a set, so we turned the lights off! So split-screen was a lovely period tool. We used a few other funky effects that are frowned upon now but you could get away in a period piece.

The series gets the heist out of the way early. Why were you keen to do that?

We did umm and aah. We felt like the quicker we got it over with, that’s where the story really begins. The aftermath. It definitely gets more interesting once they’ve got the gold, rather than prolonging the planning. There’s a nice cliffhanger at the end of episode one but the climax of episode two is the real jumping-off point.


What was it like working with the Kurupt FM boys?

It was slightly out of their comfort zone but they embraced it. A lot of people think they’re just those People Just Do Nothing characters and a part of them very much is, but they’ve shown what fantastic comedy writers and actors they are. They work in a very similar way to me and Tom, so it was quite seamless. I encourage being loose with the script. Muck around, improvise, see what little gems we can get. I’m always hunting for that little extra bit of gold. My rule has always been to let funny people be funny. I’m not precious with the words if we can let off the leash, watch them ping off each other and get funnier stuff. And they don’t come much funnier than those guys. 

The Curse launches at 10pm on Sunday on Channel 4. All episodes will be available to stream on All 4 from Sunday morning

Published: 1 Feb 2022

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