How Ben Elton almost killed Outnumbered

BBC feared another flop

Outnumbered has become one of the BBC’s biggest sitcom hits, but its creator has revealed that it almost didn’t get made – thanks to Ben Elton.

Andy Hamilton said the corporation was very reluctant to broadcast another comedy based around parenting following the high-profile flop of Elton’s series Blessed.

Elton wrote and directed Blessed – which starred Ardal O'Hanlon, Mel Giedroyc and Robert Webb – but it was panned by critics and was canned after just one series in 2005.

But it was about that time that Hamilton and co-writer Guy Jenkin were pitching their show.

‘The BBC had just commissioned a thing from Ben Elton about a family with a new baby which died on its arse for all sorts of reasons,’ Hamilton said.

‘One is that it’s actually a really boring subject – babies are just robots – but when you get young children who ask you questions all the time, that’s more interesting.’

However, programme-makers Hat Trick eventually secured a small amount of money to make a 15-minute tester to show executives the style of semi-improvised scenes they wanted to shoot. The budget was so tight, it was filmed in Jenkin’s own house.

‘To be fair to the BBC, the moment they saw the sample they got it,’ Hamilton told an audience of aspiring comedians at The Comedy School in Camden, North London, last night.

He also said the corporation was keen to sign up Outnumbered for several series in advance, but he and Jenkin would only take it one season at a time, especially because the child actors were growing up.

Hamilton also confessed he changed his mind about working for the BBC again after he publicly expressed his anger over his sitcom Trevor’s World Of Sport being axed in 2003, after being bumped around the schedules.

He said: ‘I did write a very angry article, which my wife called my suicide note. But the natural life of a TV executive is about 18 months, so I thought there was no point in being angry with a new generation of people.’

Published: 29 Nov 2010

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