Tank Commander to invade England

Scottish sitcom finally gets national airing

Scottish sitcom Gary: Tank Commander is to finally be shown nationwide, not just north of the border.

The show, about a corporal deployed in the Middle East, has been a hit on BBC Scotland, but the corporation’s reluctance to air it in England has long been a cause of frustration to star Greg McHugh.

But it will transfer to BBC Three this summer, prompting McHugh to hope that future series may have a bigger budget so ‘we can afford a tank in every episode, as opposed to just a couple’.

BBC Scotland is still to confirm a third series of the comedy, but McHugh says ‘it would be brilliant to do something on a bigger scale, the noises have been very positive’. He added that he’s under ‘no pressure’ to tone down the “Scottishness” for a UK-wide audience.

‘I’m very nervous because you want the show to transfer. But when it finally does you ask yourself, “hold on a minute, what if it dies on its arse?”’

The first series, set in Iraq, was filmed in a quarry in Kirkintilloch and originally aired on BBC Two Scotland. The second, set in Afghanistan and shot in a Glasgow car mangling plant, transferred to BBC One Scotland.

Initially developed at the Stand Comedy Club’s Rough Cuts nights, the none-too-intelligent squaddie has shown impressive survival instincts. His television debut was in an E4 pilot broadcast in 2006. Yet despite McHugh winning a 4 Talent award in 2008, Channel 4 dropped the character after Gary’s War broadcast on More 4.

Picked up by BBC Scotland, the series was bought by Australian broadcaster ABC2 last year. But the BBC’s reluctance to show it UK-wide led McHugh to complain about its treatment.

In a recent interview with Scotland on Sunday, he said: ‘We beat the network share of the audience every week that Gary was on. So is there a suggestion that that audience doesn't really count because people in Scotland are so different from those in England, Wales or Northern Ireland? When audiences for these shows are rising and I'm getting messages from people down south saying 'I've just found your programme online, why's it not on here?' the annoyance really builds."

McHugh is currently completing the script for a BBC sitcom set in a CCTV control room in a seaside town, provisionally titled Smile, before recording the Radio 4 series Will and Greg: Wireless with Will Andrews.

Gary is the first Scottish comedy to transfer to a network audience since another Comedy Unit production, Still Game. Producer Rab Christie has dropped the strongest hint yet that the production company’s other recent BBC Scotland shows, Burnistoun and Limmy’s Show, may yet transfer to the network too.

‘I don’t think the shows will go out on BBC One necessarily,’ he said. ‘We’re thinking BBC Two, Three or even Four.’

Published: 16 May 2011

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