'Even if it wasn’t spooky, it’s very Christmassy' | Reece Shearsmith & Steve Pemberton on the Inside No 9 special © BBC/James Stack

'Even if it wasn’t spooky, it’s very Christmassy'

Reece Shearsmith & Steve Pemberton on the Inside No 9 special

Inside No 9 returns this week for a Christmas special ahead of its eighth series. Here Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton talk about the episode...

How exciting is it to be back at Christmas?

Reece: The prospect of doing a special episode of something that is ongoing is always exciting. You want to make it different in its own way and a treat for the viewer. To do something where we can embrace the tradition of the ghost story of Christmas, which we’ve never really done before, was brilliant.

We were delighted to be asked to do it and then we hit upon this idea, and it's come together in a lovely way and is a real treat for Christmas. Even if it wasn’t spooky, it’s very Christmassy.

I think it will be great to settle down and watch on a late December night and have your spine tingled.

What can we expect?

Steve: We discussed many many different ways of presenting a Christmas special and the one we were really excited by was Christmas ghost stories.

My character is called Dr Jasper Parkway who’s an academic, he has paid to spend the night in a remote church on Christmas Eve.

This is something we’d been talking about for a long time, the notion of ‘champing’ which is camping in a church, it’s a real thing that you can do and we’ve had it in our notebooks for a long time as it’s an usual setting for an episode, but we never knew what the story would be.

Combining the notion of staying overnight in a creepy church and all of the wonderful atmosphere that you would get with the oral tradition of someone coming in and telling the ghost story, that’s what got us really excited about the combination of those two things and we are delighted with it.

Which church did you film in?

Steve: It's called St Marys Church in Rosthern, just outside of Knutsford and it was one of a few that we were sent pictures of and they very kindly allowed us to film there.

Reece: It is just outside of Manchester, as this whole series 8 has been filmed up north. The location team scouted various ones and we had photographs sent and then Steve went and saw a couple.

This one was perfect for our needs geographically and it suited what we imagined our story, the necessary doors in and out for example. This was perfect and it looks amazing, it’s such a gothic looking building from the outside and it looks very old and lit up at night it’s spectacular.

Did it feel as spooky to film in there as it is to watch?

Steve: Well normally, Christmas specials are filmed in the height of summer and people find it very difficult to get in a Christmassy mood when it’s boiling outside.

We were filming there towards the end of September, so the nights were starting to draw in but even though the entire episode is set at night we filmed during the day – it wasn’t quite as spooky as you might imagine.

But it was a great location and it offered up everything we wanted. We’d never worked with the team before, because we were filming with a new northern based team. The director of photography, Len Gowing and the director, George Kane – these were all new people to us but they made it so amazing. It feels like a feature film as soon as you walk into that church, we hope audiences are excited by that as well.

What was it like working with your guest stars for this episode, Shobna Gulati and Simon Callow?

Simon CallowReece: Fantastic. We have a dream situation on Inside No. 9 because Steve and I get to meet and act with all these great actors that we can ask to be in this thing, and invariably we’ve asked people and they always seem to want to do it, so that’s thrilling.

We’ve always wanted to work with Simon, and I mention him because of his connection to Christmas so we thought it would be great to have him in our Christmas special.

In his own way, he is Father Christmas and you’ve got that link to Dickens, and he does his A Christmas Carol, so it felt like a real treat to have him, he brought an extra twinkle to the whole Christmas special so it was great.

Sobna GulatiShobna we’ve not worked with, but we knew obviously of her brilliant work, and we wanted someone that would play my wife, as this silly couple who would break the atmosphere of the night. I got on really well with her and we had a great week and she had very funny stories off camera.

She was so up for it, she’s a big fan of the show. Although she didn’t tell us that until the end because she was embarrassed! She does a brilliant job of playing that warm, funny, silly character that you completely relate to and fall in love with straight away. They both delivered on both counts in what will hopefully be a very special episode.

Do you have any Christmas traditions yourselves?

Steve: Reece and I have a tradition where I go to his house on Christmas Eve. We swap presents and we usually have a sherry.

Reece: We’ve managed to do that every year for a number of years now so that is one of our traditions.

Steve: Both Reece and I have older children now. I always used to put the mince pie out and enjoy drinking the sherry and eating the mince pie. I also created footprints leading from the chimney to where the plate was.

I always enjoyed getting the children to look outside and then run to another room and jingle some sleigh bells, so it’s a shame in a way now when you’ve got much older children in their early twenties and teens. We’re going to wait for the next generation to come along so all of those traditions come back

• Inside No. 9: The Bones of St. Nicholas is on BBC Two at 9pm on Thursday

Published: 19 Dec 2022

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